The job I work often requires me to watch as yet publicly unseen movies and having done so, try and synthesize the experience into words and phrases that communicate that viewing experience to any readers that happen to stumble across my clumsy assemblages. Season of the Witch is the first film in this, the year of our lord two thousand and eleven anno domini, for which this task has been put upon me. In order to do so effectively I’ll be attempting, over the course of a few thousand characters, to wordsmith together a syntactic contraption which will communicate something comparable to the idea of a film being a person, and furthermore me laughing in that person’s face.
Season of the Witch is the latest action film from Dominic Sena, and it’s had a rough go of it. Originally set to be released nearly a year ago, the studio held it back until the first weekend of a new year, as we are all presumably still drunk and stupid from our New Years shenanigans. Despite the dumped release date, a quick scan of the elements involved reveals enough potential fun that one might be given to watch the film. Medieval buddy movie with Nic Cage and Ron Perlman with war and sorcery attacking from all angles? A pustule-encrusted Christopher Lee happens? Demons? A director that has managed competent spectacle and wrangled good crazy out of Nic Cage before? Many of those nouns are things I like. I’m “into that” on one level or another. The chance of the film having more than a few neurons to rub together, much less a complete brain is unlikely, and the PG-13 rating guarantees no teeth, but there could be balls. Perhaps lots and lots of balls… So I watch.
There are no balls, which is a bummer.
What I find instead is a film populated by actors who must have all been given different scripts. Naturally, each script contained the same dialogue but the film itself was written differently for each performer. Nicolas Cage must have received the version on goldenrod, which was the “standard DTV fantasy movie set in the crusades” screenplay- he cashed his check, put on his serious breathy voice and went to town. Ron Perlman surely received the screenplay for the “modern buddy action flick set in the crusades” screenplay printed on indigo, and he polished his best one liners and also went to town (different town than Cage). Claire Foy (whose character’s name is gracefully “the girl”) joined on due to a strange fetish she has, and was disappointed to find out that she heard the description of her role incorrectly, and that she would spend most of the film “in a cage” and not “in Cage.” Stephen Graham received one of his Boardwalk Empire episode scripts that had accidentally been printed on the back of some discarded Season of the Witch screenplays- he and his Chicago accent showed up on set unannounced. Nobody really knew what to do, so he was shoved into the movie as a “guide” who will lead our heroes and a witch captured by the church to a far away city, where the escorted witch can be dealt with by the monks there. His character is brought onto the party so that they may avoid the treacherous path laid out by the untraveled priest, which would have taken them through the unsurvivable forest and through a mountain pass. They still travel through these places. Because. Also, the production designer, costumer, and director of photography got that same DTV script they gave Nic Cage.
The chewy center of this film is the friendship between Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) and due to matters of science, this is the only thing that could be or even need be “good” in Season of the Witch. These are two actors capable of a stunning degree of charm under the right circumstances, and the pairing could have worked. It seems they were green-screened into each others scenes though, the same way they were composited into a montage of Crusade-era battles (that montage shares most of the adjectives applicable to the last dump I took). Perhaps I’m exaggerating- the two do seem to genuinely like each other, and they often inhabit the same space. The few legitimate chuckles this movie might coax out of a viewer above the age of fetus is the result of their banter, mostly Ron Perlman’s jokes (he’s “the funny one”). Any other moment of joy you carve out of this film will be derisive barks of laughter when the film does something inexplicable and moronic. For example –and I’m not making this up– the film at one point has scary CGI wolves go through CGI transformations where their CGI faces morph and shift into slightly-scarier CGI faces.
You’ll probably laugh at the Demon’s silly voice, or the bizarrely-timed scene in which Nic Cage is tempted with a handjob. Otherwise this movie has nothing- it’s ugly, the effects are garbage, the plague prosthetics are plastic and cheap, the journey is insubstantial, and the action will fail to register on even the most easily excited part of your brain. We all like to listen to Christopher Lee say words, but he’s around for all of three minutes. The film is bad enough to turn up the nose of the most forgiving DTV enthusiast, yet it’s not even bad enough to merit a drunken tear-down viewing with your friends. The only notable feature of Season of the Witch is a YouTube clip’s worth of dumb crap and tin-eared line deliveries and when you watch that clip in a couple of months, you’ll be glad you skipped this.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars