An American Werewolf in Bucharest

Fans howl as Hollywood takes a big bite out of popular werewolf teen-novel Blood and Chocolate.

Somewhere Hermann Hesse must be bearing his teeth and snarling. The revered German poet and novelist was awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature, and still somehow a lovely line from his existentialist exercise Steppenwolf ends up associated with something as ridiculous as the angst-ridden tale of a teenage werewolf in love.

"In fear I hurried this way and that," Hesse wrote for Steppenwolf's mixed-up main character, Harry Haller. "I had the taste of blood and chocolate in my mouth, the one as hateful as the other." What's hateful is hearing a mopey melodrama queen of a character ' an over-the-hill werewolf aunt who still pines for the leader of the pack even though he's moved on to younger mates ' quote Hesse's simple poetry in Blood and Chocolate, a throwaway movie based on a popular teen novel of the same name. If Steppenwolf sentiments and teenage werewolf dating trauma felt like an unfortunate fit in Annette Curtis Klause's not-totally-terrible novel, the film sinks that disconnected feeling to a whole new low.

Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) is an American werewolf in Bucharest. She lives with her aunt Astrid (Katja Riemann), the aforementioned jilted lupine lover, because her parents and siblings were killed by American hunters when she was a child. Leader of the pack Gabriel (Oliver Martinez) sired a son with Astrid, the roguish Rafe (Bryan Dick), but now has his sights set on Vivian. She's not interested in turning out like her aunt, though, and she's never truly embraced her wolf side, feeling more conflicted by her dual nature than anyone around her. And so it occurs that she accidentally meets and disastrously falls in love with Aiden (Hugh Dancy), a completely human American graphic-novel artist with what is quite possibly the most ridiculous back story you will ever hear. Aiden finds out her secret, in a decidedly unfortunate fashion. The pack (predictably) goes wild, and Vivian (again predictably) is forced to make a choice.

Director Katja von Garnier's Blood and Chocolate truly bears only a passing resemblance to Klause's book. Basically, the names are the same, and the story's about werewolves; not too much else remains unchanged, a fact bemoaned at length by devoted fans on threads the World Wide Web over. The result isn't even a good werewolf movie. Silly special effects, lingered over for far too long, make shape-shifting wolf-humans looks like Cirque du Soleil spoofs. There is a dumbness to this script that stays with you long after the film is over. Aiden's bogus back story has to be heard to be disbelieved. And in one scene, Gabriel has a few of his heavies put Vivian in a car while he attends to a particularly nasty bit of business. The two thugs put her in one door and stand outside with backs turned ' while she simply scoots across the back seat and out the unlocked door on the other side of the car. They cannot be serious.

In this and countless other ways, screenwriters Ehren Kruger and Christopher Landon strip out any pretense to complexity, totally snarl Klause's storyline and plop their action down in the middle of Romania, as opposed to contemporary high-school USA. (An understandable relocation for budget, but certainly not narrative, purposes.) With so much creative shoplifting going on, shouldn't something here have turned out better?

Still, the ruination of a teen novel is not the right tragedy to get worked up over; no, the real injustice is the sad fact that poor Hermann Hesse somehow woke up to find himself trapped in such a preposterous pop-culture prison. Turns out that the wolf he always suspected was at the door might not be our lower animal selves after all. On this level, it's a dishonest, drive-by, beastly looting of the glorious sacred (in this case Hesse) by the unoriginal profane (in this case Klause and von Garnier). Covering an OK piece of young-adult literature ' and a decidedly bad popcorn flick ' in the simple poetry of a master writer is just dressing up a sheep in wolf's clothing.

And that really bites.