Superhero Saturday: Once-laudable series goes straight to hell in ‘The Crow: Wicked Prayer’ (2005) (Movie review)

I

 like the first three “Crows” probably more than I should based on their quality, but the fourth and last entry, “The Crow: Wicked Prayer” (2005) is indefensible. It goes wrong in nearly every way a movie can go wrong, despite starting from a strong foundation. A team of three writers (including Lance Mungia, who also directs) draws from Norman Partridge’s graphic novel, bringing the action from the city to the country. The desert Southwest imagery is good and Jamie Christopherson delivers a fitting woodwind-driven score.

“Wicked Prayer” is so poorly executed, though, that the pretty score can’t help it. It has the most accomplished cast of the series, but everyone is either miscast or not into it. Mungia is content to use “good enough” takes. This always feels like a job to be completed rather than a project anyone thinks will be good; it’s impossible to get swept away in it, and that’s doom for a “Crow” film.

Mungia and his team eschew the clean revenge plots of the first three films for an unnecessarily convoluted story of a modern-day Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse wreaking havoc. They kill lovebirds Jimmy (“T2’s” Edward Furlong) and Lilly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) partly out of bigoted dislike for their interracial coupling and partly because they need Lilly’s eyes for their Satanic spell. Luc/Death’s (David Boreanaz of “Angel”) girlfriend Lola (Tara Reid) then becomes the seer.

At least it’s interesting to have Lilly as the first female Crow … oh wait, that might’ve been an actually interesting movie. Rather, Furlong’s Jimmy is a total milquetoast of a Crow, with no screen presence that would make us believe he’s intimidating or beating up any of his opponents (even though he’s invincible). The action and fights are choppily edited, but even so, there’s no way to make us believe this Crow is beating up four big bad dudes. Also, Furlong and Chriqui have no chemistry, even in stylized flashback montages.

I suppose if a viewer hadn’t seen Boreanaz in “Angel,” they might mildly enjoy his turn as the quippy gang leader. There are hints of character-actor ability in Yuji Okumoto, Marcus Chong and Tito Ortiz, but they try and fail to make poorly written and worse-directed scenes bearable. Reid would bring a certain trashy-pretty appeal, and we could also appreciate Danny Trejo simply being Danny Trejo, if there was any suggestion that the filmmakers cared about this project.

Another sign of “Wicked Prayer” being phoned in is that it’s about bigotry between the Horsemen and the Indians, but none of the Indians are played by Native American actors. That’s an insult to Native Americans in the profession. Then again, maybe the filmmakers spared them by passing them over. Also, it’s bizarre that the Horsemen themselves are racially diverse; it’s just Indians they hate. You might catch the throwaway line that Luc’s dad was killed by an Indian, but that’s not enough to buy into any of this shallow racism commentary.

I think the direction and miscasting are probably worse than the screenplay (in the sense that a stylish “Crow” film could be made out of it), but the screenplay isn’t good, either. Watching Boreanaz do his Angelus thing, but with more swearing and less conviction, illustrates that swearing doesn’t in and of itself add anything. Here, it subtracts. And when an actor doesn’t even try to get into the dialog’s faux-edginess, it’s particularly bad. A stark example is Dennis Hopper as a dark priest; it’s obvious Hopper had to ask someone what “original gangster” means before calling Death by that term.

The only thing to recommend “Wicked Prayer” is Chriqui, because she was among the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood in 2005, and because Lilly is dispatched before the actress has to participate in the worst of this mess. You might think it’d be fun to see Furlong (who was passed over for his own character of John Connor in “T3” a couple years prior) get a chance in a lead role, but you’ll immediately long for any of the first three Crow actors, all of whom are Daniel Day Lewis in comparison. Boreanaz might’ve been interesting if Luc was wildly different from his most famous role; instead, it’s awkward to watch him almost play Angelus.

It’s bizarre to say this about a movie that comes from a “Crow” graphic novel, but: Let this “Crow” fly away; it does not feel of a piece with the 1994-2000 films. If you want to maintain good vibes about the series, pretend there are only three films. I think all the actors in “Wicked Prayer” would be OK with that.

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