Columbia Pictures/ Revolution Studios
Ron Perlman has racked up quite a rsum playing the gentle (and not-so-gentle) giant. Mexican-born director Guillermo Del Toro used him to great effect in Blade II and actually wrote Hellboy, adapted from the cult fave Dark Horse comic series, with Perlman in mind for the lead role. Perlman was unforgettable as the freakish circus strongman in the 1995 City of Lost Children, but most of us remember him best as the romantic monster Vincent in the late '80s television series Beauty and the Beast, co-starring with Linda Hamilton. Critics pondered the unthinkable (would they or wouldn't they?) while American women swooned over that deep velvet voice. Yeah, he had the facial features of a lion, including cute little whiskers, but he had those wavy blond locks and he was sexy as hell, even if he did live in the sewers.
In Hellboy, Perlman has found the character of a lifetime. The latest in a string of comic book adaptations, director Del Toro seems to have hit upon the ideal mix of dark surroundings, wry humor and mythical characters. Hellboy opens in 1944 Scotland where American troops surround a super-evil phalanx of Nazis, assembled to open a portal to the dark side and thereby spread evil across the Earth. The allies, under the supervision of young Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm, director of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, are able to close the portal but not before the devil's offspring, a cute little red creature, pops out. Thus is born Hellboy -- spawn of Satan, raised by humans at the Bureau who teach him to make choices for good, fighting evil forces in a tainted world.
Fast-forward 60 years. Professor Broom, played with deliberate delicacy by John Hurt, is frail and aged. Hellboy, who spends most of his time lolling about in his oversized cell eating pizza and guzzling six-packs of beer, has aged in dog years to post-adolescence and yearns for the company of the girl he loves -- Liz (Selma Blair), a telekinetic fire starter who currently resides in a mental institution. Both Liz and Hellboy long for normalcy, despite the fact that he's a 6-and-a-half foot tall red giant with filed off horns and she can't risk the least amount of emotional imbalance (even lust), lest she burst into flames.
Sound preposterous? It is. Hellboy eventually is pitted against the evil guys who released him in the first place and who, now, have unleashed a hideous creature called Samael -- a flopping, transfiguring, multi-headed giant squid -- from inside an ancient statue. Many fights ensue, most in the dark canals of the subway, and Hellboy deadpans nobly while doing his duty, stopping at one point to rescue a cage of mewing kittens from the subway platform while swinging Samael onto the tracks below.
Some inconsistencies mar the film. For example: Fire is the only power that can kill the giant squid, but Hellboy repeatedly forgets to carry a flamethrower and Liz misses several chances to barbecue their nemesis. But we are not looking for logical actions or consequences here. We're drawn along by the brilliantly dark sets, the snappy pacing, and by the love story trajectory of Hellboy and Liz.
Perlman's strength as a character actor far transcends the mountain of foam and makeup that surrounds him. His cigar-chomping, sulking, pouting Hellboy is an unforgettable character, strengthened by the actor's mellifluous baritone and his fine instinctive empathy for the outcast. With the exception of the first X-Men, this is the best of the recently rising film genre of comic book adaptations.
Tinseltown, Cinemark 16