Reeling It In: Thyme for the 'Season of the Witch'

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Season of the Witch"

Ap Photo/Relativity Media, Egon Endrenyi
Ap Photo/Relativity Media, Egon Endrenyi
In this film publicity image released by Relativity Media, from left, Stephen Campbell Moore, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are shown in a scene from "Season of the Witch."

Atlas Entertainment

1 hour, 35 minutes

Nicholas Cage, once a dramatic powerhouse, once a highly respected Oscar-winning star, has become a punchline. This isn't exactly a new development -- it's been coming on for years, but I know that it's now official. My wife and I get to go on somewhat infrequent date-nights away from the kids and this week we had planned to go and see "The Fighter," which is supposed to be moving and powerful and very dramatic. But when we got to the theater and saw that Cage's occultist Crusades thriller, "Season of the Witch," was showing, we quickly changed our plans, agreeing that we were much more in the mood for a comedy.

I'm sure Cage has plenty of representation -- I'm not sure how these scripts keep making their way to his desk. Over the last few years the man has made a few good movies, but the majority of his resume is filled out with unintentional hilarity, culminating with the amazingly funny "Wicker Man" remake. I had high hopes that this week's film would top "Wicker Man," but unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) "Season of the Witch" isn't that bad a movie.

Of course, that doesn't make it good. Cage is Behmen, a deserter knight of the Crusades who, along with his oafish bear of a partner Felson, played by Ron Perlman, is guilted into escorting a "witch" to a remote abbey for trial. The girl has been accused of starting the plague, and the locals are understandably peeved.

Behman, for his part, is just hoping to do one good deed to offset all the women and children he accidentally killed fighting in the Holy Land. The big question is whether or not the girl's really a witch, although the movie wastes no time in letting you know that something is definitely up. There's also a whole thing about a special book and special incantations that have to be read, but the set up is really just a lot of complicated hooey.

What the movie has going for it is not all the backstory, it's the journey itself. Somehow, as we traverse rickety bridges and fight off scary wolves, I found that I was actually into it, wondering if they were going to make it, and which of the band of not-so-merry travelers would get picked off next. By the end, though, when we reach the final battle with all the special effects and undead baddies, things just get silly again. On the other hand, the end is way funnier than the middle, so it really just depends on which movie you want to see.

The problems with the movie are myriad: the acting, writing, plot -- basically everything except the middle part of the story treatment. Some of the special effects are pretty good, although some are just cheesy. I'm sure the film had at least two separate writers -- one to give Cage and Perlman all their "art" and "thou" and "wherefore" lines, and one to provide all the quips, such as "We're gonna need more holy water!"

I did have one somewhat complicated complaint, however. As the film opens, we see an 11th century Catholic priest presiding over the impromptu trial of three accused witches. It's the old song -- confess and we'll kill you, but your soul will be saved, or don't confess and we'll kill you anyway. This kind of thing happened all throughout the Dark Ages, and up until the last couple of hundred years in our own country, and of course there were never any actual witches. So I figure the movie is setting us up for a story about the backward practices and fear-mongering of the early church and giving us a reason to sympathize with Cage's maybe-maybe not witch later in the film.

Think again. After hanging and drowning the three protesting women it is revealed that not one, but two of the three actually were witches, as evidenced by their snarling, clawing, reanimated bodies.

Really? Two out of three? Does this suggest that the witch-burners got it right two-thirds of the time? Is this the message we're sending? Really? When I brought this up to my wife she told me to quit being such a killjoy and that a movie like this isn't sending any message except that witches are scary, as is Nicholas Cage with a stringy dye job. Fair enough.

Actually, when I think about it, "Season of the Witch" was just about the perfect bad movie experience. The beginning and ending are laugh riots, but the middle is exciting enough to hold your attention from start to finish.

Nicholas Cage may not scare up any awards for this film, but it should at least prepare him for the role he's currently filming, that of Johnny Blaze in the sequel to "Ghost Rider."

Well, why not.

Grade: C

"Season of the Witch" is rated PG-13, although with all the plague gore, violent witch death, wolf attacks, and executions, I'd think twice about letting my tween watch it.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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