04/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Movie Review: The Wolfman

On the list of crimes against cinema, the remake stands just above the sequel as an offense against the artform.

The sequel, of course, is an indicator of a dangerous loss of imagination, though there are those rare examples of sequels that do more than simply repeat the formula of the original film.

But the remake blends both a death of imagination with hubris -- not just that an old product can be resold in a new package but that no matter how classic the original, the re-maker can somehow improve upon it.

Not that there aren't remakes that work; people have been reworking Shakespeare and other classics for years. The best remakes reimagine the material in a way that brings new insight; I always point to The Magnificent Seven as an example of a remake that stands on its own.

Most remakes, however, are simply crassly commercial projects. Someone somewhere said, "Hey, this is available and no one's seen it in a while. Let's cash in." Exhibit A: The upcoming film of The A Team.

Which brings us to The Wolfman, which attempts to retell the story that originated with a 1941 film starring Lon Chaney Jr. that was called The Wolf Man. The Chaney film isn't a classic in the sense that James Whale's Frankenstein or Todd Browning's Dracula are, as a formal piece of cinema. It was a corny horror programmer that happened to star Claude Rains and the wonderfully named Maria Ouspenskaya.

But it's a classic in the sense that it has legs -- that it's the werewolf story that spawned all cinematic werewolf stories. There's always room for a new one -- and there's no need to retell this old one.

Still, to be fair, Joe Johnston's remake isn't dreadful -- certainly not as awful as the commercials make it look. It's not a good movie, by any stretch -- but it could have been a lot worse.

What it's got going for it is Johnston's willingness to go for the throat with the action -- literally. When the title character runs wild, he doesn't just bite people or claw them -- he defenestrates them, dismembers them, decapitates them -- and all the other dis- and de- words that have to do with horrible things that can happen to the human body.

And this Wolfman isn't selective: Once he's turned loose by a full moon, he's a little like the Tasmanian Devil in the Looney Tunes cartoons -- a one-man tornado of violence cutting a swath through the closest available crowd of humans, leaving a wake marked by gallons of fake blood and rubber guts and limbs.