He was a master of the macabre and a totem of 19th-century American literature; as the writer who’s credited with inventing the modern detective novel with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe is also a no-brainer choice for a puzzle-solving hero in various posthumous tales of mystery and imagination. Not that you will find an abundance of either of those elements in James McTeigue’s contribution to the genre, in which the V for Vendetta director pits Poe (Cusack) against a fiend who’s using details of the author’s stories in a series of dastardly homicides. Our now-penniless poet has no sooner returned to his old Baltimore stomping grounds in October of 1849, a few days before [Spoiler alert!] his death, than two bodies are found sliced up in a locked room. A detective (Evans) recognizes the scene as a re-creation from Poe’s seminal sleuth-lit work. Once more bodies begin appearing, the duo races to discover the killer’s identity.
Bibliophiles, librarians and graduate students may swoon at the sight of the author’s signature grotesquerie—folks being buried alive, the appearance of Death at a masked ball—perfunctorily showing up, as if being checked off a curriculum list. (For those still disappointed that Roger Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum never graphically demonstrated what a giant swinging ax could do to a human body, you will finally have your answer.) Everyone else will simply wonder why Cusack keeps vacillating between his charming-hipster act and generic (Poe-faced?) brooding; if Evans is consciously imitating Clint Eastwood in order to secure a biopic role; and how such a fertile back catalog of horror and an inventive idea for a gothic blockbuster can both be squandered so thoroughly.
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