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Sunday, May 23, 2010

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE -- movie review by porfle

Few novels have yielded as many movie adaptations as Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Jekyll-and-Hyde story. This tale of the eternal conflict between good and evil within every individual is not only a fascinating story, but it serves as a jumping-off point for filmmakers to come up with a seemingly endless number of variations and interpretations--DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE, MARY REILLY, and even THE NUTTY PROFESSOR come to mind--with wildly varying degrees of success.

Now we can add writer-director John Carl Buechler's THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (2006) to the list. This time the story takes place in the present, retaining just enough elements of the original novel to justify using the title. Golden-voiced genre fave Tony Todd (CANDYMAN, THE CROW) stars as Dr. Henry Jekyll, a research scientist working for a corporation that's funding some kind of nano-technology experiments on chimps. He's developed a nano-serum that, when injected into the bloodstream, can drastically alter the physical makeup of the subject and devolve it to a more beastly state.

It goes without saying, of course, that Jekyll has been unwisely using the serum on himself. I'm not sure why, since this version of the character doesn't seem to be motivated by the idea of separating the good and evil sides of his nature. The fact that the serum turns him into a murderous human monster seems to be an unforeseen side-effect. But I guess it doesn't really matter, since this film doesn't aspire to be anything more than a gory monster movie--which it succeeds in doing pretty well.

This time Hyde isn't just a mean guy who murders a couple of people--he's an unstoppable killing machine whose frequent rampages result in several graphically violent murders. Buechler uses his well-known makeup-effects skills to good advantage in these scenes as Hyde disembowels people and bites off various parts of their bodies, all while gleefully entertaining them and us with Freddy Krueger-style wisecracks.

He's pretty scary, too, especially in the transformation scenes in which people who are in the company of the innocuous Jekyll suddenly find themselves confronted by the horrible Hyde. Buechler goes all out in the final scenes as Hyde's body goes out of control and starts morphing into a series of hideous forms.

It all looks low-budget and cheesy but that adds to the fun. This goes for the dialogue, too, as in this early exchange between Jekyll and Hyde:

"What the hell did you murdering...ASSHOLE!"

"Tsk, tsk. Sticks and stones may bust my bones--but an asshole never hurt me."

And then there's the scene where Lt. Hamilton (Peter Jason) is scolding investigating homicide detective Karen Utterson (Tracy Scoggins) for never carrying a gun because of what happened to her former partner:

"The gun exploded in HIS hand, not yours."

"Yeah, I was there, remember? A piece of his SKULL hit me in the EYE!"


As indicated here, a tenuous connection is made to Stevenson's novel through the use of various character names. Scoggins is Karen Utterson, while her partner (Stephen Wastell) is named Enfield. Vernon Wells ( "Wez" of THE ROAD WARRIOR) plays Jekyll's friend Lanyon, Deborah Shelton is the ill-fated corporate executive Donna Carew, and Jekyll's personal assistant (Peter Lupus III) is named Poole. Tim Thomerson shows up in a couple of scenes as a medical examiner, but his character is named--Arnie Swift?

When Jekyll's wife Renee (Judith Shekoni) decides to throw an "Opera Night" party at the club that she manages, this finally gives Buechler an opportunity to dress his Jekyll/Hyde in the familiar top hat, tails, and cane outfit that we're accustomed to. Hyde poops the opera party big-time and heads back to the lab--leaving a trail of bodies along the way--where the police catch up to him and there's a wild free-for-all finale.

Tony Todd isn't very memorable as Dr. Jekyll, but his Mr. Hyde is delightfully horrible and over-the-top. Which is a pretty good way to describe THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Despite the literary lure of the title, it's nothing more than a gory, goofy monster movie. And sometimes that's enough.

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