The Raven, when it came out, was getting a lot of bad press. And it deserves almost all of that bad press. The movie is an incoherent mess, a lackluster bit of nonsense where Edgar Allen Poe solves an unimaginative series of murders based, kind of, on his stories. The only good thing you’re likely to have heard about it is that Edgar Allen Poe has a pet raccoon for absolutely no reason. Everything else you’ve heard about it is most likely “It’s really boring. Except the raccoon.” For really obvious reasons, everyone loves the raccoon.
I did not find The Raven especially boring. I found it hilarious. The plot is rambling, with all these pretentions to complexity when it’s just a Serial Killing Stalker With a Crush. The bad guy’s ultimate goal? To force Edgar Allen Poe to write more stories. Now, in some contexts, that’s a really interesting plotline. In the context of Edgar Allen Poe’s last days alive? That’s just hilariously stupid and self-evidently ridiculous.
The characters are all invented from whole cloth. Poe’s girlfriend. Her father. The serial killer. And most invented and least original of all, the gruff police inspector. Worst and best of all, none of these characters are realized in the least. Poe’s girlfriend is a prop for the plot to advance. Her saving grace resides in her efforts to escape her captor, which are the nearest thing to actually gripping moments in the film. She scrabbles against her coffin until her captor thinks she’s given up… and then starts digging through the dirt with her corset boning. Though she’s not realized as a character, the writers made token efforts to give her some agency, which felt gratifying on a sad, sad level.
Poe’s girlfriend’s father is even more poorly executed. He loathes Poe because….. Poe is loathable? He is constantly threatening to shoot Poe for pursuing his precious daughter. Then the daughter gets kidnapped by Poe’s serial killer, and he blames Poe. 3 scenes later, he has forgiven Poe for absolutely no reason. He gives Poe his horse to get away to try to rescue his daughter. There is no motivation, no touching moment, which leads to this forgiveness. Just one minute, her father blames Poe. The next, Poe is his hero.
The movie is so vastly enjoyable in its awfulness. John Cusack is apparently fully aware of how ridiculous the premise is. His acting is the only acting that’s not awful – It is still High School level, as everyone else’s is, but it’s enjoyable. John Cusack put some amount of thought into the role – He spends the whole movie being ridiculous. Consider the Raccoon Cuddling scene, in which he grabs his pet raccoon, holds it for about ten seconds as it struggles against him, and then tosses it to the ground, where he tosses it a freaking human heart. Cusack seems to know that the premise of the movie is patently ridiculous, and that the movie is taking itself far too seriously. Yet he gives Poe a bright eyed melancholy, and a penchant for cuddling raccoons. Also memorable is the scene in which he runs around a church, to get in the back door to confront the killer, and leaps over a stone. When the police force comes around the same direction, they ignore the stone completely and run straight to the door. The stone was not in Poe’s path at all, yet Cusack chose to leap over it.
The dialogue is so trite, so clichéd, and so absolutely out of period that it’s hilarious. There are – I am not shitting you – two different occasions on which the growling police inspector says that the mayor is demanding results on this case. He says that the mayor is demanding results from Edgar Allen Poe. In 1849. The movie was clearly conceived as a buddy cop film in which Batman and a Raccoon solve murders, but the writers realized that they only had two pages of watchable script, so they threw in Edgar Allen Poe.
This movie should not have been made. The script is weak, the acting weaker, and the premise is beyond ridiculous. A ridiculous premise can be strong; I am looking forward to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Poe happens to appear in the book by the way. But a ridiculous idea cannot take itself seriously without becoming entirely the wrong kind of ridiculous. For quality, I give this movie 1 out of 5 waffles. And that’s without syrup. For entertainment, I give it 5 out of 5 waffles, and one of them chocolate chip. That’s the Raccoon Waffle.
(Maybe I should rethink this Waffle Rating system.)