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'A Cure for Wellness' is demented and fun yet rings hollow

Dane DeHaan gets used and abused as a poor business tool who journeys to a creepy spa in the depths of Europe.
A Cure for Wellness

Gore Verbinski's epic horror number "A Cure for Wellness" offers Mia Goth and lotsTwentieth Century Fox

‘A Cure for Wellness’
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars:
Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“We’ve all done terrible things,” someone says in the latest from the guy who made three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. Now, now, that’s a mean thing to say. Verbinski’s done some terrible things himself. Bloated running times, overly complicated plots, Johnny Depp going from wicked saboteur to ubiquitous annoyance — these are some of the trends he’s helped release into the world, like Pandora and her box of troubles. Could “A Cure for Wellness” be his form of penance? A classic one-for-me oddity, it’s meant to show you that his best works (“Rango,” the underrated “The Lone Ranger” and, yes, bits of his "Pirates" movies) are no flukes. It’s meant to show that he’s a deep eccentric, trying to find his voice in the soulless wilds of Hollywood.

He’s never quite found it, not even in “A Cure for Weakness,” which betrays both his weaknesses and his strengths. On the plus side, Verbinski was able to coax a major studio to fund a Eurotrash-style horror epic that runs almost as long as “Goodfellas.” Dane DeHaan, with his tired eyes and air of weirdo unease, plays an ideal antihero: a cynical, flustered, Nicorette-gobbling Wall Street stooge named Lockhart (his heart is locked, you see). He’s been sent to retrieve his boss from a tony and truly creepy spa, tucked away in the Swiss Alps. The tenants — all old, all wealthy — have either been coaxed or drugged (or both) into a life of perpetual ease, treating their head doctor (Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs) like a guru or a god, who’s freed them from a life of materialism and greed. Lockhart can’t help but think there’s something afoot.

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It would be easy to chide “A Cure for Wellness” for being at least 20 minutes too long, even though it is. Still, the roominess is part of its charm. Verbinski prowls the bowels of his set — the Hohenzollern Castle in Germany — like a kid in a decaying, haunted candy store. It’s a world of mysterious corridors and secret rooms, of jars housing strange creatures in urine-colored brine, of endless creaks and rusty old-timey medical devices. It’s a movie to get lost in, not just sit and stare at, twiddling one’s thumbs, waiting impatiently for the big revelations and some purple OMFGWTF insanities.

It’s fun being jostled about by “A Cure for Wellness,” just as it’s fun watching Verbinski repeatedly and inventively defile a very game DeHaan. But it’s the kind of fun that ultimately rings hollow, that makes you question yourself on the way out. Verbinski makes no bones about ripping off others. At one point he even steals, lock, stock and barrel, a very famous moment from a very famous movie. He does it well — if anything, his version is more visceral — but that tells you everything about Verbinski. When he does indulge in his own fetishes — he has a thing for eels, which did you ever notice are super-phallic? — they seem insincere, a square guy’s idea of the surreal. Eventually even the talk about throwing off the shackles of the corporate life seems fake. Verbinski’s no mere peerless technician, but it will take something stranger than “A Cure for Wellness” to suggest he’s more than slightly more.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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