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McAvoy vamps it up as the legendary mad scientist 'Victor Frankenstein'
DF-03663 James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe star as Victor Frankenstein and his friend and assistant Igor, in VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, a dynamic and thrilling twist on a legendary tale. - photo by Josh Terry
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN 3 stars Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Bronson Webb, Daniel Mays; PG-13 (macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction); in general release

At the beginning of Victor Frankenstein, the titular mad scientist (played by James McAvoy) discovers his loyal assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) at a circus. This seems fitting, since like a classic, campy circus act, director Paul McGuigans film takes itself just seriously enough that you dont have to.

According to this new riff on the classic monster tale, Igor starts off as a nameless hunchback, acting as de facto physician to his fellow circus performers when he isnt being featured as a sideshow himself. Hes meant for bigger things, though, and when Frankenstein helps him tend to a fallen acrobat named Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), Igor gets his chance at a different kind of spotlight.

From here the story is mostly familiar, with a few narrative twists. Frankenstein manages to cure Igor of his hunchback condition, and rather than serve as his yes, master! servant, the talented ex-sideshow performer becomes the infamous doctors partner. Things start off small as the two cobble together a chimpanzee and impress a wealthy benefactor (Freddie Fox) enough to secure funding. Then Frankenstein sets his sights on a more human target.

In the meantime, religious fervor drives a local inspector named Turpin (Andrew Scott) to stop Frankenstein and his abomination of a career. And Igor gets to enjoy the fruits of his (semi) normal existence and court Lorelei. But motives are uncovered, backs are stabbed, and ultimately lightning crashes around a remote castle in Scotland as a crazy doctor tries to bring a classic monster to manic, miserable life.

The challenge for a movie like this is to justify its own existence. There are so many Frankenstein movies, after all. But even though Victors story isnt enough of a departure to make it truly unique, the joy it takes in its own cinematic voice may be enough to wrench smiles from its unwitting audience.

McAvoy in particular is having a great time, raving from scene to scene with mad bravado and coming off like the gifted lunatic at the head of a world-famous rock band. Its not the kind of performance that will get awards, but its the kind of committed effort that makes B-movies a lot of fun.

Igor, strangely, is the straight man to the unholy chaos around him. Radcliffe taps into some of the charm that made him relatable through eight Harry Potter films to give us a reference here.

McGuigans camera angles and motion and animated interjections suggest a Guy Ritchie take on the Frankenstein myth, with a dash of Baz Luhrmann thrown in. It adds up to a silly product that is way too campy to take seriously, and nowhere near serious enough to hold to a high standard.

Its also pretty gruesome, tossing around organs and stitching together body parts with PG-13-rated glee. Frankensteins ambush of an operation on Igors hump is a classic bit of black humor, but it might not fly for those with sensitive tastes.

At times, Victor toys with the audience, suggesting it has something profound to say about the moral conflict at the heart of Mary Shelleys famous tale. Is it unethical for man to play god? Will science run amok convince man that he is god?

Rather than explore these issues, Victor wisely keeps its place. Those kinds of questions are best left for other films. Better to be an overachieving B-movie than a disappointing headliner.

""Victor Frankenstein" is rated PG-13 for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction; running time: 109 minutes."
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