By David Mumpower
April 2, 2004
A giant red demon with a club for a hand and a weak spot for Baby Ruths and kittens tries to save the world from evil minions, including his father, Satan. As a viewer, I was somehow braced and ready for all of that, but what I didn't expect was a caustic wit in the vein of Men in Black. Hellboy isn't always great, but it does get style points.
The plot of this movie is like a supernatural Revenge of the Nerds. A World War II military troop and their mystical advisor, Professor Broom, attempt to stop Nazis (I hate those guys!) from opening a portal to the nether realm. When this attempt proves only partially successful, the professor finds himself in possession of and thereby new father to a bouncy baby boy...who also happens to be the spawn of Satan.
Fast forward 60 years. Hellboy (Ron Perlman), as he is colloquially called, anchors a select group of mystical warriors who answer the call when evil seeks to destroy mankind. Assisting him are some sort of aqua-man named Abe Sapien (deftly voiced by David Hyde Pierce) and a gorgeous young firestarter named Liz Sherman (the always sleepy looking Selma Blair). The trio are the very definition of social outcasts because the men look like, well, fish and horned devils, while the woman has a tendency to have a meltdown whenever she gets taunted. And I mean that literally.
The too-noble element of protecting the very people who shun you would make for a much more mundane comic book hero production (i.e. the X-Men) if not for the fact that Hellboy as a hero emits a delicious The Tick vibe. At several instances in the movie, a Ben Edlund-esque quip is offered at a most inappropriate moment. The result is that Hellboy never takes itself too seriously, thereby giving audiences the opportunity to be be thoroughly entertained by cheesy fun while receiving the knowing wink from all involved that they realize how ridiculous the whole thing is. This is the saving grace of a movie that is otherwise, mind-numbingly straightforward.
I presume the causality for the paper-thin plot is the awareness that a lot of the on-screen visuals are so far out there that any convoluted twists in the story would lose the audience. Even so, as I mentally review the sequences of events in Hellboy, it is hard not to feel disappointed by how derivative the skeleton of the plot is. An eight-year-could write an outline for this type of movie that would prove eerily similar to the actual output director Guillermo del Toro offers.
Counterbalancing this issue is the resplendent performance of Ron Perlman. I for one was wondering exactly what in the world a man who hadn't been mentioned as a lead actor since Beauty and the Beast was doing frontlining a production of this magnitude. I had certainly been impressed with his performance in Blade II, the last del Toro film, but I had no real expectations for him to be anything more than an imposing physical specimen in Hellboy. To my surprise, his portrayal of the titular character as a churlishly immature, petulant brat of a man-beast is pitch perfect in tone. The drab and slow initial 15 minutes of the movie had me giving up all hope for a quality feature, but the instant Perlman arrives, he literally saves the day with his acerbic delivery of eccentric, frequently morose dialogue. I sincerely wish that there had been more of him and less of the secondary characters, because Perlman as Hellboy is just that good. The other characters, particularly Blair's Liz, only get in the way of the film's true appeal.
Despite these minor quibbles, I still whole-heartedly recommend Hellboy. The overwhelming majority of people going to see this aren't going to be looking for a heady plot anyway. They want to see a faithful comic book adaptation with astonishing visuals and quips aplenty from a big lug of a do-gooder. Using that particular criteria, Hellboy is devilish fun.
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