Nice guy, a few laughs in ‘Werewolves Within’

‘Truman and Tennessee’ a visual scrapbook about literary stars

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“Werewolves Within,” opening Friday in theaters, is a horror comedy about a small town plagued by a lycanthrope and saved by an even rarer species — a truly nice man.

Many of the movie’s jokes are duds, but many others succeed, and, while the sum total is frustratingly uneven, Sam Richardson’s lead performance, as a nonaggressive, nice-guy hero, has undeniable appeal.

The movie is directed by Josh Rubin (“Scare Me”) and written by the aptly named Mishna Wolff, whose screenplay is rooted in a video game.

Ruben has cited the Coen brothers and Edgar Wright’s “Hot Fuzz” as influences for this lightweight genre picture with a whodunit element.

Following a grisly prologue, we meet forest ranger Finn (Richardson), who, while driving his car, is repeatedly saying “Balls,” as instructed by an assertiveness-training tape. Hs destination: Beaverfield, the snowy, woodsy New England town where he’s been re-stationed.

There, he receives the scoop on various eccentric residents from friendly postal carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub).

Locals include innkeeper Jeanine (Catherine Curtin), whose husband has vanished, and Devon and Joachim (Cheyenne Jackson, Harvey Guillen), city-bred millionaires who run a yoga studio. Trish and Pete (Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus) are right-wingers. Emerson Flint (Glenn Fleshler) is an intimidating cabin-dwelling recluse.

Finn also learns that Beaverfield is divided over a pipeline proposal, pushed by corporate honcho Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), that would benefit the town financially but destroy the forest.

The horror kicks in when Jean’s husband and Trish’s small dog turn up dead. A creature with canine DNA, concludes scientist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), is the culprit.

A blizzard, meanwhile, forces everyone to hole up at Jeanine’s inn. When it becomes clear that the killer may be a werewolf, residents frantically try to identify the beast among them. Suspicions fly. Carnage occurs. Are the townsfolk nastier than the werewolf?

Finn, who is Black, level-headed and kind, and believes that people should be good neighbors, like Mister Rogers, personifies outsider-hood in all-white, paranoid, greedy Beaverfield. He faces huge challenges in his attempt to keep people from getting killed. For assistance, he teams up with Cecily. The two bond over a love for national parks. They also flirt.

Joke-wise, the film is hit-and-miss. The screenplay tosses plenty of comic bits, some involving race and gender; sadly, many sink.

At other points, though, the humor works, such as when Finn is attempting, usually in vain, to man up. Also memorable is the ridiculously suggestive torch-like object that the aggressively pipeline-pushing Parker has displayed. Cecily calls it a “phallic fire totem.”

While Vayntrub, in the somewhat developed Cecily role, establishes herself as a rising star, it is Richardson who keeps the flawed movie afloat. Richardson (from “Veep”) is wonderful, whether Finn is saying corny things like “What a coincidinky” or demonstrating how a non-hostile, even-tempered, all-around decent guy can be a movie hero who saves the day.

Watkins stands out among the supporting cast, though, like her costars, she needs smarter material.

REVIEW

Werewolves Within

★★1/2

Starring: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, Wayne Duvall, Michaela Watkins

Written by: Mishna Wolff

Directed by: Josh Ruben

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

“Truman and Tennessee” offers interesting details about the life and work of writers Truman Capote, left, and Tennessee Williams. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

“Truman and Tennessee” offers interesting details about the life and work of writers Truman Capote, left, and Tennessee Williams. (Courtesy Kino Lorber)

Opening Friday in theaters, “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” doesn’t live up to the promise of its title, but it’s an engaging literary-giant pairing.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland explores the professional and, especially, private worlds of Truman Capote (1924-1984) and Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) via these authors’ own words, which she supplies largely with talk-show clips and letters read aloud by actors Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. Additional archival materials include photographs and excerpts from films based on Williams’ plays and Capote’s novels.

Vreeland draws parallels. Both Capote and Williams grew up in troubled families in the Deep South, were openly homosexual in gay-unfriendly times, and, experienced addiction issues and, in their later decades, career declines.

Additionally, they shared a decades-long friendship laced with rivalry.

Presenting them side by side, split-screen style — in solo appearances on David Frost’s and Dick Cavett’s talk shows — Vreeland compares the two authors’ views on everything from love and sex to professional success. The men view each other with both admiration and envy.

The film isn’t psychologically penetrating, and because we don’t actually see Capote and Williams interacting with each other directly, their friendship doesn’t come across strongly.

But Vreeland presents her material effectively, delivering what might be described as an onscreen premium scrapbook celebrating two 20th-century literary stars.

As Capote and Williams discuss numerous topics — their work (Capote recalls how writing “In Cold Blood” shattered him); Hollywood (Williams says the studios ruined the endings of his dramas); the men they’ve loved; living in Europe; Studio 54 (Capote imagines Proust loving it there); Chekhov (Williams likens the playwright’s tsarist Russia to his own Deep South) — this documentary offers a a rich picture of these men, and that’s enough to make it worth checking out.

REVIEW

Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation

★★★

Starring: Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams

Directed by: Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

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