Blood and Chocolate (2006)
Directed by Katja von Garnier
This movie is another sign of a growing tendency in contemporary cinema towards conspicuous imitation. It seems that originality is no longer something to aspire to. The story isn’t what’s important anyway. It’s all about mixing genres; and, it seems, the more genres you mix, the better.
In this case, the formula goes like this: take a horror film monster, put him—no her—in a Shakespearean love story about two star-crossed lovers, and have it take place in modern-day Romania; make everyone act like they’re part of “West Side Story,” only make the knife a silver one and give their running and jumping a superhuman bounce, but without the song and dance; add a bunch of guns and, oh yes, an explosion, and you have “Blood and Chocolate.”
In this revamping of the Jerome Robbins’ reworking of the Romeo and Juliet story, one of the star-crossed lovers happens to be a werewolf. Vivien is an American-born werewolf who has returned to her ancestral home in Bucharest after her parents saw the wrong end of a silver bullet back in Colorado. She’s not very happy back with the pack, however. In fact, she seems pretty down on the whole werewolf lifestyle. She mopes around a lot, and takes solitary runs. She’s a typical teenager, really—critical of her family and their traditional values. She watches in adolescent disdain as they drag her to their ritual hunts, which inevitably involve the eating of raw flesh. In defiance, Vivien refuses to participate. To make it even more obvious that Vivien is “different,” the film even has her working at a chocolate shop. The meaning of the film’s title stops here, by the way. Looking any further for any more relevance chocolate has to the story could lead to lunacy.
To make Vivien even more disgusted with the ways of her people, it seems that the werewolf clan’s leader, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez) may decide to take Vivien as his next “wife.” As the alpha male, Gabriel is entitled to choose a new mate every seven years, and rumors are floating that he will choose Vivien because…well, because she’s the star of the movie, and she’s hot, and—in a brazen bit of imitation—she’s his present wife’s niece. The reasons for Gabriel’s interest in Vivien are numerous and vague, but the purpose of this plot point is obvious. It makes the arrival of Aiden, a lowly human, as a love interest in Vivien’s life more of a threat than a mere break with tradition.
Aiden is an American tourist who is in Bucharest to research his next graphic novel, which is about werewolves, of course. As Aiden, Hugh Dancy acts as though he has accidentally found himself in the wrong genre movie at the wrong time, but has decided to make the best of it. He’s a good sport in a role that demands that he be a charming, sensitive, street smart, intellectual hunk, though not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately, Dancy has some kind of twinkling-eye disease that after a while makes you wonder if he’s ever going to be serious about this acting thing. If not, he might do well to stick to romantic comedies or historical dramas. The twinkling eyes are less annoying in those.
Vivien doesn’t let Aiden know she’s half wolf, but underneath Dancy’s all-American boy façade, Aiden is hiding a superpower of his own, namely an uncanny ability to beat the pulp out of anyone who provokes him. This comes in handy during the barroom brawl, or should I say absinthe factory shoot-’em-up, at the end of the movie, where Aiden manages to keep half a dozen werewolves from ripping him to shreds.
It’s a wonder this film got made at all. Didn’t anyone read the script? The plot is right out of one of those Mad Libs word games where you fill in the missing words to make up a new story. Only, the writer took the game seriously, and what might have been a pretty funny parody turns out to be a cliché-ridden travesty. Maybe the producers thought the script could be fleshed out on the screen. Maybe they thought the actors could fill in the blanks.
Unfortunately, the actors couldn’t. It probably seemed like a good bet to cast Agnes Bruckner, who has shown such promise in other films. Bruckner is one of those lucky actors whose face is the kind that the camera loves. You could look at her for hours just doing nothing. Unfortunately, actors can rely too much on a face like that, and end up forgetting to act. That’s Bruckner’s problem here. She uses one facial expression throughout most of the movie. The one time she cracks a smile (during an embarrassing montage that includes slow motion shots of her and Aiden splashing around in a fountain—another cliché), it’s such a shock that it looks fake. It looks like she’s acting, which is the worst thing you can say about an actor. Poor Agnes. She could so easily end up on the trash heap of actresses whose flames burnt out before they could start developing some technique.
Speaking of career moves, it’s interesting to see Olivier Martinez slumming as Gabriel, the werewolf with the heart of lead. Martinez is a charismatic actor whose smoldering good looks could make him a superstar in the right vehicle. You can tell he was hoping for the kind of role that blasted Johnny Depp to the stratosphere. He even sports a goatee and purrs in an unidentifiable foreign accent that is, alas, just this side of self-parody. Martinez is too serious an actor for such broad humor, and he’s too softly gorgeous to play a villain. If he wants to make it big, he’d be better off looking for an action thriller. He’d be a seductive action hero for the over-20 crowd. He has so much more smoldering sex appeal than Johnny Depp that it’s just wasted on a teen audience.
Which is another theme of contemporary cinema—finding out what makes a teen audience keep coming back for more. “Blood and Chocolate” goes to great pains to try to appeal to that audience, but it has misjudged their ability to be charmed by the illusion of quality. Judging from the reaction of the mostly teen preview audience I saw this with, “Blood and Chocolate” will be gone before the next full moon. Turns out even adolescents know a stinker when they see one.