An American Werewolf in Paris
Review by Mike Finkelstein
I doubt anyone was itching for a sequel to 1981's An American Werewolf in London. The thought of making a sequel seems pretty silly when the titular character, said American Werewolf, dies at the end of the film. Any kind of sequel would only be one for the world not for the specific story, making it more of a side-story or sequel in name only to the original. On top of that, none of the original crew from that first film were involved in the sequel, truly making it a cash-grab sequel sixteen years too late.
In fairness to the studios, the original film did get pretty heavy rotation on Comedy Central for a while there in the mid-1990s so perhaps the studios holding the rights to the film felt they could get away with a sequel to capitalize on that "popularity". That might have been their thought but the Box Office proved otherwise as the sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, only managed to pull in just over it's meager $25 Mil budget. A rousing success this was not.
Not that I consider it a failing of the film itself. The original film is a weird act to follow, both horror and comedy in weird measures with a truly depressing ending. This second film at least manages to find a similarly silly but at-times-horror tone, working up update the basic material to work for the mid-1990s kids that would see an R-rated werewolf film in theaters. I just don't think there were a tone of people looking for a horror-comedy werewolf film staring Tom Everett Scott. That seems like a pretty small selection of movie fans.
We join up with our trio of main characters -- Tom Everett Scott's Andy McDermott joined by best friends Brad (Vince Vieluf) and Chris (Phil Buckman) -- as they make their way, via train, across France. The guys are on an "extreme stunts" tour of Europe, going to various sites and performing dumb, Jackass-style stunts. It's Andy's time to shine in Paris and he has a big one planned: a bungee jump off the Eiffel Tower after hours. But when the guys are setting up the stunt, out walks Serafine Pigot (Julie Delpy) onto the upper level of the tower. She throws herself off in an apparently suicide attempt, but Andy jumps off after her, saving the girl but banging his head hard on the way back up.
Recovering in the hospital, Andy sends his friends off to try and find the girl when, wouldn't you know it, she walks into the hospital on her own, stealing hearts for some reason. Andy manages to finally track her down and gets her to agree to one date, but she steadfastly tells him to leave her alone, for his safety, lest bad things happen. He doesn't really know how to take no for an answer and visits her house one last time. A weird guy answers the door, though -- Pierre Cosso as Claude -- and he invites the three Americans to his "fund raiser" at "Club de la Lune". The invitation is a trap, though, and Claude and his skinhead buddies turn into werewolves in the club and attack the partiers. Andy ends up with a bite on his leg, Serafine takes him in, and then its a big mad chase to figure out how to cure him of lycanthrope and maybe stop Claude and his evil ways.
Credit is owed to this film for trying to do something more with the plot than the same basic shtick as the first movie. American Werewolf in London setup the basics of the universe: when a werewolf kills someone, that person is trapped as an undead spirit until the line of the werewolf ends (with the death of the last surviving wolf in the lineage). This film adds a twist to it all, though, by stating that a werewolf can be cured if it eats the heart of the one that made it, effectively ending its line in the process. If that had been an option in the first film it would have led to a much happier ending.
It is a bit of a ret-con, to be sure, and when you see other undead ghosts getting to move on to the afterlife you have to wonder how many people have their own lineage as wolves and how it all works. This sequel plays hard and fast with the rules and doesn't really dwell too much on the details, only really using the rules of the first movie when it suits it. That's why we get a scene of Brad, who was killed by a werewolf early in the film, moving on to the afterlife after a random werewolf gets killed. Meanwhile Andy killed one person, Amy (Julie Bowen), but after a single scene of her showing up as a ghost, the film drops her story entirely and just moves on with its life. It's a tad inconsistent.
What works in the film is the central couple of Andy and Serafine. This film came out right after That Thing You Do!, which was a relative hit, and it tries to build on the bankability of Scott, who proved to be the central star of that previous film. He does have a casual, dorky charisma that works here and played against Delpy, he is a legit dramatic actress, the two find a bit of chemistry that works. Their story, her trying to find a cure and Andy just trying to figure out what's going on, works really well. You end up rooting for the two of them to just find a way to be happy together.
The fact that the film includes an actual villain this time around does change the dynamic of the story. In the original film our hero was also the villain but here the antagonist is an external force -- Claude and his skinhead pals -- and that leads to a good vs. bad storyline that's a lot less complicated and more crowd pleasing. Maybe that's not what fans of the original film were looking for, it's a much more Hollywood style story, but it also means we don't have to be sad about Andy and the fact that he'll have to die since he's just so likable. Instead we can enjoy him taking down the leader and eating his heart, finding a cure he needs so he doesn't have to die.
And then the film cuts ahead to a Hollywood happy ending. This is a big betrayal of the first film, to be sure, and I'm sure plenty of fans hated this as well. I don't hate it personally, although I do have plenty of questions: Andy is cured but Serafine isn't? How can they be happy together? Is she going to lock herself up ever full moon while she's still haunted by the ghosts of the people she killed? Are they all cool with that? Or did she somehow find a cure and we just aren't told about it? And what about all the people that died at the club, and the fact that people see Andy turn into a werewolf before he eats Claude's heart? Does no one say anything about that? The ending glosses over all of this and it leaves me feeling just a little cold when I actually think about it.
Meanwhile, instead of practical effects this film does all its werewolf transitions in CGI. This wasn't off-putting for me when the film first came out because, at the time, the CGI seemed cutting edge; I thought the werewolf transitions were actually pretty cool. Now, though, the CGI looks awful and fake and I really wish the movie could have just used practical effects like the first film. The werewolves in this movie have nothing on the doggo in the first movie and that's a real tragedy.
So yeah, this film is far from perfect. It is fun, however, with plenty of comedy and just a little bit of gore (and sex) to carry it through. As much as I normally hate it when sequels go from an R rating to PG-13, I really think this film might have benefited from a gentler rating. There's very little in this film that's all that horrifying or gory, so a softer rating might have gotten more butts in seats. That said I don't think anything would have really saved this film: it's a dorky little werewolf sequel to a film most people have forgotten about. It was just a big studio miscalculation so while I might have liked it I couldn't be the only one showing up to make this film a success.