The second PG-13 werewolf movie this year demonstrates how both the cinematic form and the folkloric myth are as malleable as the lupine shape-shifters they portray. Blood and Chocolate was a dreamy teenage girl's romantic European fantasy. Skinwalkers is a pubescent boy's high-octane shoot-’em-up. Before flagging toward the end to become a second-rate Terminator 2, this Canadian-made action drama sparks an old-fashioned B-movie charge—it's welcome to the grindhouse all over again with such delicious conceits as a town of werewolf-citizens and a pistol-packing grandma going it gangsta-style.
There's a battle van, two big gunfights, lycanthropes in leather riding motorcycles like in that ’71 sorta-classic Werewolves on Wheels…. Whatever the movie's faults, it's got nothing to do with its lack of gore and only to do with its poorly thought-out climax and the bad guys' paper-thin personalities.
A skinwalker, the legends tell, isn't confined to becoming a wolf, but can shape-shift into any animal form; the best-known such creature, the Yea-Naa-gloo-shee of Navajo lore, just as frequently turns into a coyote, owl, fox, or crow—a point the movie alludes to with a hawk that the motorcycle werewolves use as a sort of remote spy-eye-in-the-sky to find their prey.
That prey is Timothy (Matthew Knight), a 12-year-old who's prophesized to end the lycanthropic line when a red moon shines on his 13th birthday, which as the movie opens is four days away. He's been living for years in picturesque Huguenot with his widowed mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra), his grandmother Nana (Barbara Gordon), his Uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas), and his cousin Katherine (Sarah Carter), Jonas' daughter. Katharine's boyfriend Adam (Shawn Roberts) and family friend Will (the popular Canadian Native-American actor, singer-songwriter and activist Tom Jackson) are also around a lot.
It turns out that's for a reason, one now fast approaching. Four biker-gang werewolves led by Varek (Jason Behr) know about the prophecy and are determined to kill Timothy before he can end what to them is a blessing and not a curse. Opposing them is a veritable underground of werewolves who, just as some mutants in the third X-Men movie wanted to be injected with the antidote to their mutation, want the prophecy to be fulfilled.
Like the comic books from which the X-Men came, in fact, Skinwalkers offers as much posturing and posing as it does twists. It has a deliberate, melodramatic-cool factor that's self-conscious enough to be fun. The movie also throws great bits and lines at you practically up to the final shot, and Natassia Malthe, the half-Norwegian, half-Filipino model-actress playing were-babe Sonja, is really, really easy on the eyes. But the bad werewolves have little in the way of differentiating personalities, the creature effects designed by the studio of industry legend Stan Winston are surprisingly pedestrian, and the movie's climax and coda are both ridiculous.
Still, how many movies can you say would make a great double feature with Werewolves on Wheels?