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'The Last Witch Hunter': It doesn't cast much of a spell

Vin Diesel plays the title character in The Last Witch Hunter.
Vin Diesel plays the title character in The Last Witch Hunter.

What to make of The Last Witch Hunter? What a curious conundrum. It's too self-reflective to be an entertaining mess of unintentional hilarity, but none of the scripted punchlines land. The premise itself could possibly work if the nonsensical screenplay didn't throw everything at it to see what sticks.

At times it achieves the highest camp. Other times, it strives for dark grittiness, and that middle ground is a brutal no-man's land. Like that other witch hunter movie, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, this film is completely looney, and it only half knows it.

Star Vin Diesel pushes the powers of his racial ambiguity in a prologue that outlines the origin story of his witch-hunter character. About 800 years ago, Kaulder (Diesel) tromps around a forest in his best Euro-tribal drag, complete with inexplicable gingery beard and a fierce weave. He corners the Witch Queen, who's made up of tree roots and bees; she has brought a "black plague" upon humanity. He skewers her with his fire sword, but not before she curses him to live forever hunting witches.

Fast-forward to the present, and Kaulder has adopted the cue-ball hairdo that is Diesel's trademark. He's been at this witch-hunting game for a while, so he has powers to deduce the presence of witches by fogging up windows with his breath and whispering "magic!" He also can control the weather by fiddling around with "ancient runes." He's got a sick ride and an entire order of priests dedicated to basically being his personal assistants. Sir Michael Caine is his favorite priest assistant and best friend.

Caine dies, and is replaced by Elijah Wood. Kaulder suspects black magic, and with some of his witchy forensic skills, the plot is off and running. Here are some things that appear after that point: maggot cupcakes, magical butterflies, a gummi bear tree, a witch council where a wizard informs them they look like a terrible '80s band (they do), Elijah Wood wearing a white stretch turtleneck, a botanical witch fashion show, a maraschino cherry filled with memory potion mixed up by Rose Leslie, a blind pastry chef eaten by a tree, and a witch queen whose main superpower is controlling a swarm of bees.

No effort is put into explaining why these witches are so bad. The appear to be environmentalists who want to turn the urban landscape back into a green space. Apparently the witch queen must be destroyed because she's ugly, aggressive and wants to kill Vin Diesel. Other than that, it seems that she just wants to do some undisturbed gardening with her crew.

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