Empire of the Wolves (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Empire of the Wolves is a high-concept French thriller targeted specifically at the audience which embraced Crimson Rivers as a cult hit. Like Crimson Rivers, it is based on a novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé about two cops investigating a series of grisly murders. Like Crimson Rivers, it features Jean Reno as one of the cops. Long gone are the old days when every French movie consisted of people puffing their unfiltered cigarettes while they look out sadly from cafe windows into lonely city streets, while the score plays "Ma Vie En Rose." Now there's a hip new kind of French film. Oh, they still look out sadly from cafe windows into lonely city streets, but now there's a rock version of "Ma Vie En Rose," and they are smoking filtered cigarettes! These new movies have turned the academies on their ears!

Actually, I'm kidding. There really is a whole 'nother thing going on in French films now, with lots of over-the-top cross-genre escapist fare which often out-Hollywoods Hollywood. This film still has some tearful looks out of cafe windows, but the woman is no longer crying for a lost love like in the old days. Now she's crying because her brain has been reprogrammed by rogue vampire cops in league with satan-worshipping werewolf scientists.

I'm exaggerating, but not by that much.

In this film a young Parisian captain is stymied by the complexities of "Little Turkey" in his investigation of three murders which seem to involve ritual mutilation. Knowing that he needs help to solve the case, he reluctantly calls on a disgraced cop (Reno) who has an intimate knowledge of Little Turkey and useful connections within the Turkish community. As you can see from that description, the film could very easily come out of Hollywood with Edward Norton as the principled by-the-books cop and Bruce Willis as the grizzled old scumbag.

Unfolding parallel to this story is another which initially seems unrelated, about a French housewife with a particularly mysterious case of Cinema Amnesia. In this particular variation of the disease which has crippled so many film characters, the victim can remember everything except her husband. And I mean everything. She can remember the names of the 1906 Cubs and Martin Bormann's third cousins on his mother's side. She can recall the vehicular traffic counts at every major intersection in Estonia. She remembers the big white house on Elm Street, and her little sister Dagmar, and her big brother Nels, and Papa. But most of all, she remembers Mama. Yet show her a picture of her husband and she's as baffled as President Bush trying to read Finnegans Wake.

What do these two ostensibly unrelated stories have to do with one another? Your desire to know that is what will keep you watching the film, assuming it is enough to reel you in. It worked for me.

It is an extremely complicated plot which folds in upon itself like an Escher painting, and it's really too contrived. I won't spoil the exact plot of this film, because some of you will find it worth watching, but I'll give you a parallel example to illustrate its potential for confusion. Suppose you are a professor with some kind of problem with the mob, a problem so bad that you have to get plastic surgery and assume an identity as an illegal Mexican farm laborer. Now suppose that some insane scientists are trying to prove that they can take any simple old Mexican farm laborer and re-program him so completely that he can pass as a professor. Of all the paperless laborers in the world to kidnap against his will, the mad scientists choose you, the one who really is a professor posing as a laborer. That isn't actually what happened in this movie, but it gives you the general idea of the kinds of things to expect. The scientists don't know who you really are because they had no idea that you were living undercover when they kidnapped you. The mob doesn't know who you are because you don't look the same, and there is no way for you to betray yourself, because you don't know that you are you.

Can you see the potential for extreme complexity and confusion in that premise? It would be like adding more layers on top of The Bourne Identity, a film with which Empire of the Wolves has certain common elements. Well, the actual case in the movie is much more complicated than the example I gave. The plot is just filled with twists and turns and secret societies and ancient gods and unexpected revelations and everything but the kitchen sink. To make matters even harder to follow, one of the two seemingly unrelated storylines splits into two story  threads. Reno and the young cop split up for various reasons which I can't reveal, so their stories are thereafter told separately, and the narration must then shift between three stories instead of two, and we are wondering if they will ever cross ...

Do they? Watch it and see, if you are curious. Tip one: if you are curious, don't pay the full price for it. It has been offered for less than ten bucks NEW, and you can own a used copy for about the price of a Blockbuster rental. Tip two: you might want to suffer through the sub-titles, because in the dubbed version Jean Reno sounds like a 20 year old junior at the University of Wisconsin.

The script could have been simpler and more elegant because the film is too complicated and too contrived by half. On the other hand, it's also entertaining and engrossing in a lot of its own over-the-top ways. I'm not sure I really understood what the hell was happening in the last 25 minutes, or even how all the various elements tied together at the end, but even the most confusing elements looked pretty cool! On the other hand, I am a fan of Reno and Grangé, so your mileage may very considerably.



  • No meaningful features
  • The transfer is widescreen, anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • You have a choice of soundtracks: dubbed into English, or in French with optional subtitles.


Arly Jover shows her breasts in the shower (out of focus) then afterwards (in focus but very briefly).

There is also a naked, mutilated female corpse.

The Critics Vote ...

  • There are no major English-language print reviews on file.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-. Genre fare only. It's adequate fare for hard-core genre fans, and was made with a pretty healthy budget, but it's probably not for you if the premise sounds unappealing, because it is contrived and confusing. I sorta like it, but I am a member of the film's target audience, so there is a good chance you'll like it less than I do.

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