A werewolf movie without much bite, "Skinwalkers" centers on a mother and son trapped between two packs with very different attitudes toward their monthly metamorphosis.
A feral group of bikers, led by Varek (Jason Behr), considers its members the kings of the carnivore food chain, happily feasting on humans. A rival group, following Jonas (Elias Koteas), considers itself cursed, and members restrain themselves with chains and straightjackets when the moon is full. Jonas' group protects young Timothy (Matthew Knight) and his widowed mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra).
In a trope that has become commonplace in recent horror movies (see the recent "28 Weeks Later" and the upcoming "The Invasion"), there's something in the boy's blood that could hold the cure to the disease. Cue the dogfights, defanged to remain within the range of PG-13 tastefulness.
Bereft of the transformation special effects that give wolfman movies their special appeal, "Skinwalkers" compensates by dialing down the brightness several hundred lumens and letting the transitions take place in inky obscurity. The werewolves are nothing more than actors with a layer of pasted-on pelt and Halloween store fangs. There is nothing in their appearance to inspire dread, though in the case of one female character who changes into a hairier version of herself and stalks her prey in a bikini top, a sense of dismay is unavoidable.
Set in rural small towns, the film has an eerily underpopulated feel. When they are in human form by daylight, the werewolves settle their scores with handguns and high-powered rifles, blasting away at each other energetically, but rarely hitting their adversaries. This happens repeatedly as Varek pursues Timothy and Rachel, but no one other than the antagonists ever appears to see what all the commotion is about.
Director James Isaacs (of the much superior "Jason X"), stages the gunplay with pretensions to John Woo's bombastic, balletic style, but when the pistol-packing characters include Timothy's white-haired granny, the film veers uncontrollably into "Hot Fuzz" territory. When Nana takes one in the shoulder, rolls like a paratrooper and comes up firing, can a vicar with a machete be far behind?
Colin Covert 612-673-7186