It's clear from the opening moments of An American Werewolf in Paris -- the camera pans from a full moon peering ominously through clouds, downward to caress the exterior of a rain-washed, gargoyle-encrusted Parisian church, then to the ground where a terrified man emerges from a manhole -- that director Anthony Waller (Mute Witness) knows horror film conventions and is anxious to toy with them.
Looseness and a sense of play are the most distinctive elements of Waller's film, which isn't so much a traditional sequel as a reworking of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981). While Waller knows how to build tension and make familiar setups genuinely scary, he has made this Werewolf a hybrid, emphasizing humor as much as horror.
The comedy here is broad, often downright goofy, and the gorier aspects of the film (particularly anything to do with body parts) have a Monty Python tongue-in-cheek quality.
With a camera that seems unbound from conventional movement restrictions, Werewolf in Paris is a dizzying thrill ride of a film, with an appealing central couple in Serafine (Julie Delpy), a Parisian whose tragic-romantic ennui stems from knowing she can't control her bestial nature, and Andy (Tom Everett Scott), a naive, thrill-seeking American who's slow to realize that he's in over his head.
The big problem is the script by Tim Burns, Tom Stern and Waller, which sets up "good" werewolf Serafine to battle "bad" werewolves: snobbish, right-wing xenophobes who want to rid France of social "inferiors" and American tourists.
But when it hits the right blend of humor and horror, the film really zings. After Andy becomes a reluctant werewolf, he stalks a bubbly American (Julie Bowen) -- literally crawling on all fours toward her animal print skorts -- and their drunken coupling seamlessly transforms into a terrifying chase through the Père Lachaise cemetery.
As inventive as An American Werewolf in Paris often is, the lack of a solid script to anchor it makes Anthony Waller's efforts look like he's furiously spinning his wheels but getting nowhere.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].