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THE CROW: SALVATION

Retains the primal power of the CROW premise, but adds little that is new.

By Steve Biodrowski     September 14, 2000

The power of James O'Barr's original premise remains intact, but the third time is not the charm in this entry of the Crow film franchise. What originally seemed like a good idea for the sequels (using new characters each time out) has now turned into a liability, as each film basically has to retell the same old story. The only things that change are the names and the details; other than that, the scenario reads like a prefabricated, fill-in-the-blanks formula. Of course, the reason that people resort to a formula is that it works, and that's definitely the case here: a story about a man brought back from the dead to avenge a violent tragedy is, quite simply, guaranteed to generate a healthy dose of audience interest; as each victim is dispatched, you just can't help being swept up in that sense of righteous vengeance from beyond the grave.

So, if the essential primal appeal is still intact, the question becomes: What does this version offer that makes it worth watching, instead of going back to re-read the graphic novel or re-view the first film? Well, it's a bit like hearing a bar band cover a familiar tune: it's not as slick and finely produced as the original, but there's a certain crude power to it. To a large extent, The Crow: Salvation seems designed to exploit that power. It's not a film in the least bit disposed to dragging in new viewers; instead, it opts to appeal to the fans. It's peppered with gratuitous nudity and gore effects that will turn off the squeamish while pleasing the hardcore gore and Goth crowds. It's not excessive, exactly, but there is definitely a noticeable shift in balance. The Crow franchise has always been a weird amalgam of superhero fantasy, revenge melodrama, Gothic romance, and horror movie; this one feels just a bit more like a horror movie.

Perhaps this is the result of budget restrictions. One of the visual delights of the first film was the use of special effects to show numerous shots of the Crow (the bird, that is) flying through the night skyline of a major metropolisa beautiful, surreal view that truly gave the film a feeling of scope, helping to set it in its own world, a sort of alternative universe version of its Detroit setting. Even the disappointing follow-up, The Crow: City of Angels, managed to achieve an interesting look, yet another futuristic, Blade Runnerish take on Los Angeles. The Crow: Salvation, on the other hand, is non-descript in its setting; filmed in Salt Lake City, it never achieves much of a sense of place. And those composite shots of the flying bird are still beautiful, but now they seem few and far between. With this bit of fantasy stylization in remission, what remains perhaps seems more violent and horrific than it would have if it were tempered with other elements.

Certainly not for lack of trying. The film works hard to re-establish the familiar emotions: love cut short by violence, tragedy, despair, sorrow. The familiarity at first works against the new cast of characters, but as the story progresses you warm up to them, and you have to feel some kind of thrill at seeing the bad guys get their just deserts. But therein lies another problem: with a protagonist who is all but invulnerable, how do you generate suspense?

As in the previous installments, the new script comes up with a device to give Alex Corvis (Eric Mabius) a weakness, but it's not very convincing. The idea is that once Eric has achieved his goalor at least thinks he's achieved his goalhis powers will fade. Since he's searching for a man with self-inflicted scars on his arm, all the villains have to do is put a similar-looking severed arm in the rubble of an explosion andvoila! This has an arbitrary, plot-device kind of feel to it; it's necessary to make the story work, but we don't really believe it.

Unfortunately, much of the story plays out this familiar way. Not only does Alex have to find the man with the scarred arm; there is a whole list of underlings he must dispatch first, before he gets to Mr. Big. There's not much plot reason for this: it just pads out the running time; otherwise, we'd have a short subject. Then, amusingly, the kingpin of the corrupt cop conspiracy responsible for framing Alex turns out to be unfazed by the phenomenon of a resurrected corpses seeking revenge. 'I've never seen this before, but I've read about it,' he says. (You kind of wonder what book stores he frequents.) It's one of those moments of complicity between film and audience: you know it's b.s., but you're supposed to accept it because it keeps the story rolling. If you're willing to go along for the ride, then it's fine, but it is another example of the film lowering itself to the level of a formulaic genre piece, where stuff happens because that's what you expect to happen in a Crow movie.

In that sense, at least, The Crow: Salvation delivers. Fans should be pleased. You'll get the action, pathos, and thrills you expect. But the franchise is starting to seem as if suffering from a touch of rigor mortis. Maybe it's simply time to let the dead rest in peace.

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