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updated: 4/26/2012 8:40 AM

Poe mystery thriller thwarted by silly implausibilities

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  • Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) must stop a diabolical serial killer before he threatens the life of his fiance (Alice Eve) in the period thriller "The Raven."

      Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) must stop a diabolical serial killer before he threatens the life of his fiance (Alice Eve) in the period thriller "The Raven."

  • Baltimore police detective Fields (Luke Evans), left, and Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) team up to stop a diabolical serial killer in the period thriller "The Raven."

      Baltimore police detective Fields (Luke Evans), left, and Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) team up to stop a diabolical serial killer in the period thriller "The Raven."

  • Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), right, examines a crime scene involving a device from his literary creation.

      Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), right, examines a crime scene involving a device from his literary creation.

  • Emily (Alice Eve) becomes part of a deadly Edgar Allan Poe story in the period thriller "The Raven."

      Emily (Alice Eve) becomes part of a deadly Edgar Allan Poe story in the period thriller "The Raven."

  • Video: "The Raven" trailer

 
 

If you're like me and you like to compile clues to the identity of a mystery killer in a classic whodunit, you're likely to feel just as cheated as I did while watching James McTeigue's manipulative and implausibly silly period thriller "The Raven."

Nobody knows for sure how American master author Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849.

But "The Raven" spins a fantastical notion that he served out his last days as an American Hercule Poirot, helping Baltimore police solve a series of ghastly murders, each one based on events in a Poe short story.

It doesn't take long for Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) to figure out the killer's modus operandi when he discovers bodies in a hotel room with the door bolted from the inside and the single window nailed shut. How did the killer leave the room?

"There's something familiar about this," Fields mutters.

The next murder involves a poor man who shouts "But I'm only a critic!" as he's mercilessly sliced in half by a swishing, razor-sharp pendulum slowly lowered to his abdomen by a sophisticated contraption built of meshing wooden gears.

Thanks to his convenient interest in Poe's macabre fiction, Fields realizes the killer is modeling his crimes after the author's inventive prose.

So far, we know three things about the killer:

1) He reads Poe.

2) He has enough engineering experience or knowledge to construct a massive, complicated pendulum as an execution device.

3) He has the money to finance such a construction and pay to keep people who built it to remain quiet.

This is where "The Raven" flies in the face of common sense for the sake of dramatic impact. There's no way the killer could have actually pulled the pendulum trick off.

So, if you're willing to suspend disbelief that the killer could have single-handedly and secretly built the pendulum and jump off churches with the athletic skill of a ninja assassin, "The Raven" will be more engaging for you than me, I am guessing.

Chicago's own John Cusack stars as Poe, and he brings an ethereal sadness to the character who in real life penned such classics as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "Annabel Lee."

When he's not trying to snag credit at a local pub, the destitute Poe quietly romances the fetching Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), daughter of the town's wealthy Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson).

He takes a dim view of the part-time newspaperman/poet hanging around Emily. (He would have a colonel-sized cow had the film mentioned that Poe married his 14-year-old first cousin.)

The killer miraculously kidnaps Emily from her dad's heavily secured costume ball -- an off-screen event we don't witness, since it would almost be impossible to do.

Now, Poe and Fields must pool their resources to save Emily, apparently buried alive in a casket some place.

"The Raven," written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, comes riddled with anachronistic dialogue such as "Can we talk?" and "Shut it Emily, or I'll shut it for you!" (Is Joan Rivers that old?)

The screenplay offers nothing to suggest Poe's literary genius or intellect, something that might have been cleverly employed as a way for the writer to profile his nemesis.

Also, Cusack's action hero hardly reflects Poe's woeful, emaciated countenance we see in biography pictures.

But that's not an issue in a whodunit unwilling to play fair with the clues.

When we finally discover Emily's well-hidden location, we might marvel at how much time the perpetrator had to kill just to uncover the coffin so he could occasionally stick his eye into a peephole and frighten the poor woman.

Would I watch "The Raven" again?

Quote myself: Nevermore.

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