Vin Diesel is, somewhat improbably, a huge fantasy dork. He’s a long-time player of Dungeons & Dragons—no, seriously— and he’s even written the foreword for a book about D&D. So it’s not surprising that he’s the star of a D&D knock-off like The Last Witch Hunter—he actually wants to make movies like this. And thanks to The Fast & The Furious, Diesel has some juice, so he can push Witch Hunter on us and parlay it into a franchise if it does even moderately well—all the more reason to stay away from this movie. Under no circumstances do we need a Last Witch Hunter trilogy. Have you ever wanted to watch Vin Diesel in a D&D-themed live-action role play for one hundred minutes? No? Well let me tell you about it anyway.
The Last Witch Hunter is utter nonsense. The movie begins with Diesel role-playing as a Viking named Kaulder—the Kaiden of Viking names—who is part of a posse out to catch the witch who cursed their village or some such. They seem to be blaming her for a plague? No one is actually intelligible, so it’s impossible to know for sure what anyone is saying. But it sounds like, “Mrgf hmpfffr plurgh WITCH!” and everyone is scowling so I assume the witch is up to no good. The witch lives inside CGI and Kaulder goes there to fight her. For some reason he lights his sword on fire (“Hmmgllfr irnhr drrrr”) and this kills the witch. Hooray!
Except she kurses Kaulder with immortality, and an entire sect of Catholicism is formed around helping Kaulder kill witches. Jump to the modern day where Kaulder can do high school science to find out who witches are, and witches everywhere fear him because he’s Vin Diesel. It’s impossible for him to play a humble character—he must always be the biggest badass on the block. So of course Kaulder is an uber-wealthy guy who lives in a sweet Manhattan penthouse and bangs a lot of ladies—he’s the coolest LARPer ever. And there’s a witch’s council that governs witchdom, and Kaulder is like their enforcer, arresting bad witches and sending them to witch-jail, and a Catholic priest follows him around, writing down everything he does.
All of this information is imparted in long stretches of expository dialogue, much of which is delivered by Michael Caine, thank god, because that means it’s actually understandable. Any time we have to rely on Kaulder for information all we get is, “Hffrr bnngrr,” which I think means, “Witches be bitches.” The female lead is Game of Throne’s Rose Leslie, playing twenty-first century witch-Ygritte. Really, the movie should have been about her, the witch who doesn’t want to hurt people but who has a frightening power. Kaulder is actually the least interesting part of this world of witches.
There’s a plot to bring back the witch queen and you can spot the surprise reveal about halfway through the movie, and Elijah Wood turns up and delivers an ironic performance as one of the priests keeping Kaulder’s journal. Witch Hunter has a few decently funny bits, mostly thanks to Caine and Wood, but the movie is terrible. But at least it’s sincerely terrible, like some kind of dungeon master’s fever dream, and not a cynical attempt to exploit a niche market. It is not, however, made with any particular skill. Director Breck Eisner actually made a decent horror film out of The Crazies, but here he just points his camera at things and shakes it around a bunch, rendering the action scenes as incomprehensible as Diesel’s dialogue.
At times, The Last Witch Hunter approaches Uwe Boll levels of bad, with laugh-out-loud terrible dialogue and eye-rollingly stupid plot contrivances. Vin Diesel garbles every line like he’s sucking on marbles, and despite the dreadful movie unfolding around him, he is MAXIMUM INTENSE. Everyone else gets that they’re in a bad movie and is having fun with it, but Diesel is acting so hard he pushes his repertoire of faces to include three whole emotions (“constipated”, “smelled a fart”, and “pooping”). A movie like this really needs a more charming lead that can play the badness for laughs, like Bruce Campbell, but instead we’re stuck watching Vin Diesel take his weekend LARP tournament very, very seriously.
(Lainey: this review actually makes me want to see the movie. I think Sarah’s mad at me now.)