From Hell
a film by The Hughes Brothers

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng Directed by: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes Produced by: Don Murphy, Jane Hamsher, Kevin Messick Written by: Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

In this very issue, in his Rogue Waves Column, our own beloved Steve Eley expounds on the graphic novel that inspired this movie. I haven't read it, and after seeing this movie I don't feel particularly inspired to do so. That's probably unfair, because it's hard to imagine that any presentation of this story could be worse than this grotty and ill-prepared cinemetic mess.

When you buy a ticket to spend 90-plus minutes with the likes of Johnny Depp, Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane, you can reasonably expect to be entertained, perhaps even enlightened. These are intelligent and gifted performers (masterful, in the case Holm), who can pick and choose roles to showcase their quirky talents. But this film had Sullydog checking his watch within the first hour, waiting for the ordeal to end.

The movie starts out choppy and rudderless, a quick succession of dreary scenes that seem designed to alienate the viewer from the squalid universe of 19th-century London's Whitechapel district. Skanky whores, horse manure, oppressive architecture, dank alleys and fat guys with bad teeth are everywhere. When we finally get a handle on the principle characters, we could give a shit. Depp is an opium freak, Coltrane is a police detective who seems incapable of conducting an investigation or even formulating a complete thought without Depp at his side, and Heather Graham is a prostitute who apparently decided long ago that she should go back to the country but didn't, because--well, because she didn't. Now, it's entirely possible to make interesting characters out of such people, if you're willing to clarify their motivations, put their passions in sharp relief, make their foibles into strengths, and give their actions some measure of sensibility. But the directors, the writers and even the performers seem to have gone out of their way to make these characters flat and unlikeable. Even Holm turns in a lackluster performance, something I would have hardly thought possible. Only Coltrane seems to make a game attempt at injecting a little spunk into his role, but the idiotic script and lame direction just don't leave him anything to work with.

The plot unfolds in a way that will surprise exactly nobody, covering ground that was handled far more effectively in, for example, the 1988 film Jack the Ripper, directed by David Wickes and starring Michael Caine. But this version lacks the restraint and humanity of that work, focusing on degradation and despair, sensational violence, splatter and gore. What the filmakers have tried to do here is create a high-end slasher flick, draped over the tired bones of the Ripper saga. The result is entirely predictable. From Hell doesn't surprise us, or scare us, or even horrify us. It most certainly doesn't entertain us. But if you're in the market for 90 minutes of alternating revulsion and boredom, do yourself a favor: wait for it to come out on cable, and think about spending your money on the graphic novel instead.

Redjack meets Halloween XXVIII.

Sullydog Does Not Approve.

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