Imagine a world where the Johnny Depp-starring adaptation of Alan Moore’s “From Hell” was such a smash it spawned imitators hoping to cash in on its success.
“The Raven” -- which spins a generic murder mystery tale around the mysterious circumstances of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, just as “From Hell” spun a somewhat-less-generic murder mystery tale around the unsolved crimes of Jack the Ripper -- arrives in theaters directly from that world. I recommend staying there for a moment. Whatever you’re conjuring in your mind about this strange land of blockbuster grosses for “From Hell” is going to be a lot more entertaining and unique than what’s on screen in “The Raven.”
But if you insist on knowing… a serial killer stalks the streets of 1849 Baltimore and carries out brutal crimes in the manner of stories by Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack). This concerns Poe and confounds local detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), who initially believes Poe himself must be behind the killings. He’s not, of course, and soon enough Poe’s love Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped by the actual madman who forces Poe into a game of cat and mouse while Emily’s life is on the line.
Why any of this drearily executed boilerplate thriller material is supposed to be interesting just because a bona fide historical figure is involved, I have no idea. There’s a version of this movie -- probably starring Nicolas Cage -- that’s just a ridiculous camp-fest brazenly wallowing in its ludicrous conceit. Even though Cusack yells a lot more than usual and even though a literary critic is disemboweled in a reenactment of Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” this is not that movie. It’s simply too dull to laugh at and too routine to get invested in.
Otherwise, “The Raven” is not offensively or ineptly constructed -- especially compared to “V for Vendetta” director James McTeigue’s last mess of a movie, “Ninja Assassin” -- and will probably play just fine as late night cable TV filler or something to fall asleep watching on very long plane rides. If you nod off after Emily is snatched and wake up for the killer’s reveal, you won’t feel like you’ve missed a thing. Because you haven’t.
What’s of slightly greater concern than the movie itself is just what the hell has happened to Cusack’s career. He stumbled into a hit three years ago with the disaster epic “2012,” and some people enjoyed the mildly successful and thoroughly idiotic “Hot Tub Time Machine.” But lately Cusack has struggled to find his place in Hollywood, squandering the better part of a decade in movies that were instantly forgotten (“Martian Child,” “1408,” “The Ice Harvest”), barely released (“War, Inc.,” “Grace is Gone”) or never released (“The Factory,” “Shanghai”).
The most frustrating thing about “The Raven” is that it does nothing to change that.
"The Raven" opens in theaters April 27