A great deal of The Last Witch Hunter’s running time is devoted to Vin Diesel making that face. You know the one: Head cocked slightly to one side, eyes squinted, mouth turned down, a mixture of anguish, confusion, and mild gastric discomfort furrowing his brow. It’s a gaze that has helped turn the stoic Dom Toretto into one of the definitive franchise characters of this century, but as The Last Witch Hunter proves, it only works if there are lots of fast cars and the Rock in its immediate vicinity.
Diesel plays the titular hero, an 800-year-old crusader named Kaulder cursed with eternal life by a powerful witch queen hellbent on eradicating the human race with plague-carrying insects. Kaulder thought he slayed the queen back in the Dark Ages, but it turns out her evil heart still beats—literally, as the organ is still in the possession of a series of priests chosen to assist Kaulder and who answer to a witch-hunting council called the Axe and Cross. Someone is seeking to resurrect the queen, and it’s up to Kaulder to stop her from taking over the world with the power of ancient black magic and hilariously unconvincing digital effects.
Kaulder is joined by his latest handler (Elijah Wood), his retired predecessor (Michael Caine), and a good witch (Rose Leslie), but this is Diesel’s film—he’s also a producer—and he does not possess the on-screen electricity to overcome the absolutely leaden direction by Breck Eisner, a poster boy for the dangers of nepotism (his father is the former chairman of Disney). Seemingly every time there was an opportunity to do something fun, The Last Witch Hunter runs in the other direction, creating an unfortunately heavy-handed, humorless, self-serious tone for a story that should be allowed to be a little goofy. It should be crazy fun on paper—Vin Diesel murders witches with a flaming sword!—but the only thing The Last Witch Hunter will successfully eradicate is insomnia. D+