The Raven Movie Review: Cusack Wilts As Poe, The Boozy Action Hero

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Any movie that begins with a disclaimer to the effect that the content is based on the last few days of an iconic historical figure during which time nothing is known about him, should be heeded more as a warning than anything else. And in the case of the fictionalized borderline movietoon The Raven, supposedly based on the final days of Edgar Allen Poe’s tormented life, what we’re lured into seeing through the immortal alcoholic writer’s eyes, is less creative genius than say, pink elephants.

And if one were to play detective – not one in Poe’s mysteries but rather in scavenging for clues as to the perpetrator of this blasphemous when not screwball rendering of his life, Exhibit A readily turns up The Raven’s Australian filmmaker, James McTeigue. Likely mulling a master plan to marry older literary classic fan expectations with a video game sensibility in order to seduce attention deficit disorder youngsters into the theaters, the director of V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin has masterminded a mockery of a formula likely to appeal to neither.

John Cusack does his best to breathe passion and a wild temperament into his Poe. But given little of dramatic substance to work with, his character essentially plays out as an annoying madman for the tedious duration. It seems that Poe, along with the Baltimore police and local newspapers, are being taunted by a mid-19th century mystery serial killer – a terrifying entity that had not yet existed publicly back in those days. And who is maliciously acting out Poe’s stories one by one, an alarming situation which initially focuses suspicions on the bewildered when not routinely inebriated out of his mind wordsmith.

And what would seem to begin as a pungently moody and atmospheric period biopic, abruptly switches genre gears into slasher gore territory. As Poe’s stories are reenacted in the most gruesome and cheesy fashion. While Poe spends most of his time running about town boozing it up in pubs, and bragging in an abrasively confrontational manner as can be. Or storming into editorial offices demanding that his literary genius be recognized and published immediately. Or at least free of rewrites.

In the meantime amidst all this untamed narrative frenzy and panic, a strikingly contrasting ho hum sidebar love story rears its dull head. With Alice Eve as Emily, the undercover lover of Poe, dodging her disapproving dad (Brendan Gleeson) while eliciting zero erotic chemistry with her assigned egghead object of desire. And spending most of the movie trapped in a coffin or alternately under the floorboards where, believe me, she is not for a moment missed.

While it would certainly be unreasonable to expect any movie to emulate the literary richness attributed to Poe, that is no reason to go about reinventing, or rather fixing something that is in no way broken. In any case, it will come as no surprise if the next step in mining the writer’s legacy for cheap, sensationalistic financial gain, should make its debut as Poe, The Video Game.

Relativity Media

Rated R

1 1/2 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express.