Boneheaded "I, Frankenstein" Good For Some Laughs

“I, Frankenstein” – the Aaron Eckhart-led retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel – is the kind of harebrained that begets regretful admiration. Like a child marking up the entirety of his or her bedroom walls with a permanent marker, the picture evokes a feeling of, “Wow, this is really terrible, but I sort of respect the level of commitment it took to be this terrible.” The film surmises that the world was missing an action-based, modern day interpretation of “Frankenstein.” If there’s a worse jumping off point for a film, I’m not aware of it, but writer-director Stuart Beattie and his cast and crew tear into their bad idea with vigor.

We open in the late 18th century on Dr. Frankenstein’s monster (Eckhart) murdering Mrs. Frankenstein. The Doctor then pursues his creation to the Arctic before succumbing to the cold. An inauspicious, perplexing start if there ever was one. But wait, there’s more! Frankenstein’s monster quickly encounters a group of gargoyles – one of whom nicknames him Adam – and they implore him to take up their cause against an army of demons. Adam declines, entering a self-imposed 200-year exile in the wilderness. The film’s first big laugh comes courtesy of an ill-conceived shot that shows Adam training on a mountaintop – for no reason in particular.

Unlike most bad films, “I, Frankenstein” at least has the bedside manner to throw in some scraps of straight-up campiness. When Adam returns to civilization, the cavalcade of supporting characters provides for some truly bizarre line readings. Much of the dialogue reads like it was written in a language other than English and then filtered through Google translate, but the bizarre nature of the screenplay is only amplified by some of the performances – most memorably, a hulking henchman to Bill Nighy’s villain.

Yvonne Strahovski co-stars as Terra, a scientist and half-baked love interest for Adam, but the quality of her performance is immaterial. The role is paper-thin and could have been excised from the pic without consequence. Only the character’s inexplicable shifts in incredulity leave any kind of impact – and not the good kind. The less said about the performances of Nighy, Jai Courtney, and others, the better. Only Miranda Otto – as the gargoyle queen – holds her own amidst a sea of incompetence.

The special effects are mostly serviceable, often rising above the straight-to-DVD quality of the rest of the film. One visual in particular – a chamber filled with corpses to be reanimated – is especially well realized, except for each corpse coming with his or her own progress bar. It’s a laughably inane visual cue that’s in line with the pic’s overall tone deafness, but a laugh is a laugh, right?

Aaron Eckhart is an interesting actor and his filmography – including gems like “Erin Brockovich,” “Thank You For Smoking,” and “The Dark Knight” – should be able to withstand the occasional blight. But “I, Frankenstein” is a pretty massive blight, one that marks the beginning and end of his career as a bankable action star. The film is watchable, but in the worst way possible. It’s unclear if it’s knowingly terrible – there’s some evidence to suggest it might be – but knowingly terrible is still terrible.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: January 24, 2014
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Stuart Beattie
Screenwriter: Stuart Beattie
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout)