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Movie Review

Preposterous werewolf story is built around curse -- and worse

Matthew Knight plays a 12-year-old being stalked by werewolves and Rhona Mitra is his mother in 'Skinwalkers.' Matthew Knight plays a 12-year-old being stalked by werewolves and Rhona Mitra is his mother in "Skinwalkers." (AFTER DARK FILMS)

The opening titles for "Skinwalkers," a lugubrious werewolf melodrama that opened yesterday, informs us that "Yee nodlooshii" is Navajo for a cursed race of humans. Conveniently, it's also English for "spurious nonsense." Or, as the 12-year-old hero says at one point, "Man . . . smells like crap."

Watching the movie is a little like picking up issue #42 of a comic book after you've skipped the first 41: There's an entire back story mythos hovering in the background like a phantom limb. Apparently there are good werewolves and bad werewolves -- the good ones chain themselves to the wall when the full moon rises -- and a prophecy has foretold that a child shall come to put a final end to the curse.

Well, he's here, and he's named . . . Timmy (Matthew Knight). No one has told the boy that when he turns 13 in four days, he's going to hit something rougher than acne. His human mother, Rachel (Rhona Mitra), is in the dark, too, but grizzled uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas), cousin Katherine (Sarah Carter), and a crew of other kindly lycanthropes decide it's time to spill the beans.

Against them are the evil werewolves, who look like a gang of metrosexual bikers when the red moon's not up and who want Timmy dead so they can continue their life of bloodlust. They're led by Varik (Jason Behr), a strapping stud who favors extreme firearms over the traditional ripping and biting. Actually, there are far more gunfights in "Skinwalkers" than horror moments -- even Timmy's grandma (Barbara Gordon) is packing. The film could be a western with 5 o'clock shadow and bad teeth.

There are also a lot of Very Serious Conversations about the meaning of the curse and the race to get Timmy to his birthday on time, in the course of which the boy's character gets lost. First, he's an asthmatic tyke, then a stonefaced mini-adult. At one point, he hits on a pretty nurse. The script, by James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan (they're responsible for the SpikeTV show "The Kill Point"), is stuck in the key of melodrama, and, in fact, "Skinwalkers" suggests an episode of a middling TV series down toward the bottom of the onscreen cable guide.

The film's professionally shot by James Isaac ("Jason X"), even if he does go heavy on the pink filters, but "Skinwalkers" is never able to escape its fundamental preposterousness. You've seen worse, but, trust me, you've seen better: "An American Werewolf in London," "The Howling," "The Company of Wolves," "Ginger Snaps."

Let's not even mention Lon Chaney Jr. He'd probably prefer to keep it that way.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/ movies/blog.

'Related'

Skinwalkers

Directed by: James Isaac

Written by: James DeMonaco and Todd Harthan

Starring: Jason Behr, Rhona Mitra, Elias Koteas, Matthew Knight

At: Showcase Revere

Running time: 110 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language)

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