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MOVIE REVIEW : Ambitious ‘Candyman’ Serves Large Doses of Repellent Gore

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Candyman” (citywide), the latest Clive Barker shocker, is his worst to date: an ambitious would-be morality play/thriller of the supernatural involving racism and mythology that seems merely pretentious and preposterous as it drowns in gallons of blood and guts. To pull it off would take the utmost artistry and imagination, but writer-director Bernard Rose expends his energy mainly on the easier task of churning up violence and gore for its own sake. “Candyman,” not surprisingly, quickly becomes as repellent as it is preposterous.

Virginia Madsen stars as a Chicago grad student working with her friend (Kasi Lemmons) on a dissertation concerning urban legends. She’s intrigued by a saying she’s discovered: Chant “Candyman” five times while looking into a mirror, and he will appear. Who is the Candyman? Apparently, he is different things to different people. To the bright little boy (DeJuan Guy, a wonderful actor first seen in “Boyz N the Hood”) who lives in Chicago’s dangerous Cabrini- Green project he’s a local gang leader. Digging deeper, Madsen learns that about a century ago a black artist and a young white woman fell in love while he was painting her portrait. She became pregnant, and he met a horrendous fate as a result.

Derived from a story by horrormeister Barker, best known for the “Hellraiser” trilogy and who served as executive producer here, “Candyman” tries to cover lots of territory--moral, spiritual, historical, racial, sociological, psychological as well supernatural--but so thinly that nothing hangs together in the face of an avalanche of violence that’s finally more numbing than frightening. We’re told that when people feel desperate they turn to scary mythological figures to explain away their fates; it’s an interesting idea, but one that’s never developed. Certainly, the forthright, hard-working single young mother (Vanessa Williams) Madsen meets at Cabrini-Green isn’t about to conjure up some bogyman to blame for the tough challenges in her life; she knows full well the role racism plays in poverty and oppression.

Horror pictures, especially those that are as purportedly ambitious as this one, must function as allegories, with their key figures emerging as metaphors. However, in its emphasis on gore for its own sake, “Candyman,” for all its expensive sheen and unsettling dark and derelict key settings, never gets to come together, leaving it seem merely silly and pretentious, an effect underlined heavily by a Philip Glass score in his familiar insistent and repetitive style.

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Tony Todd, in the title role, certainly has a menacing physical presence, to say the least, but he gets no chance to convey any poignancy in his understandable rage. Under the direction of Bernard Rose, Madsen admirably sustains a ferociously demanding part, and both Lemmons and Williams are vital presences. They deserve better than “Candyman” (rated R for violence and gore).

‘Candyman’

Virginia Madsen: Helen Lyle

Tony Todd: Candyman

Kasi Lemmons; Bernadette Walsh

Vanessa Williams: Anne-Marie McCoy

A TriStar Pictures presentation in association with PolyGram Filmed Entertainment of a Propaganda Films production. Writer-director Bernard Rose. Producers Steve Golin, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Alan Poul. Executive producer Clive Barker. Based on “The Forbidden” by Barker. Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond. Editor Dan Rae. Costumes Leonard Pollack. Music Philip Glass. Production design Jane Ann Stewart. Art director David Lazan. Set decorator Kathryn Peters. Sound Reinhard Stergar. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for violence and gore).


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