As long as I’ve been a fan of John Landis’s landmark lycanthropus An American Werewolf in London (the subject of my very first Full Moon Feature six years ago), I’ve stringently avoided exposing myself to its late-arriving sequel for fear of tainting the original in my eyes. Released in Japan on October 18, 1997, and the U.K. on the 31st (fans in the States would have to wait until Christmas Day to feast their eyes on it), An American Werewolf in Paris can’t even be considered a proper sequel to London since they have no characters in common (this despite the opening title that says it’s “Based on Characters Created by John Landis”). At most, director Anthony Waller and screenwriters Tim Burns and Tom Stern (whose also co-wrote Alex Winter’s bizarro cult item Freaked) borrow some of the werewolf lore Landis invented for his film.
The main thing they play around with is the notion that a werewolf’s victims are doomed to return as the undead, but even then they muck it up (or at the very least muddy the waters) because Landis specified everyone in the werewolf’s bloodline had to die for them to stop walking the Earth. (This is why Jack is around to haunt David.) Here, only the werewolf that carried out the attack has to be destroyed, a challenging proposition since they all look exactly alike when transformed. Waller, Burns, and Stern also add a wrinkle about werewolves not being haunted if they eat their victims’ hearts. Furthermore, a werewolf can cure themselves by eating the heart of the one that bit them. Shockingly enough, with all the talk of heart-eating in this film, at no point does anybody — werewolf or otherwise — say “eat your heart out,” but then again, the script’s often ill-fitting humor runs more to physical gags than verbal jokes (one exception: the stiff in the morgue who moans, “A guy can’t rest in pieces around here”), so perhaps that’s just as well.
The trouble begins with the substitution of three college bros on a “daredevil tour” of Europe for the down-to-Earth David and Jack. Of the three, Andy (Tom Everett Scott) is the least aggravating, so naturally it falls to him to rescue distraught Parisian Sérafine (Julie Delpy) when she throws herself off the Eiffel Tower — which he was planning to do himself, only with a bungee cord attached to his feet. (This is the first of many poor special effects scenes that have failed to hold up, as if they were remotely convincing 20 years ago.) As for Andy’s buddies, Brad and Chris (Vince Vieluf and Phil Buckman), I guess he was given two so one could be werewolf chow while the other becomes a pawn of the werewolf cabal when its leader, Claude (Pierre Cosso), attempts to recruit the newly lycanthropic Andy, whose condition is poorly explained to him by Sérafine.
It turns out Claude likes to throw parties for American tourists, which he and his hand-picked goon squad proceeds to tear apart at the appointed time. Alas, these party scenes leave an opening for Waller to fill the soundtrack with ’90s alt-rock tripe by the likes of Bush, Better Than Ezra, Smash Mouth, Skinny Puppy, and Fastball. (Cake gets a pass because they’re Cake and their song is a cover of Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”) When you’re making the follow-up to a beloved film with an iconic soundtrack, the last thing you want to do is set a montage sequence to “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which goes completely against the spirit of the song choices in the original.
In spite of that lapse, Paris features a few deliberate echoes of London, including a pipe-smoking authority figure and the reality that the police are mostly clueless about the nature of the beasts they’re confronting. There’s even an homage of sorts to the Piccadilly multi-vehicle pile-up when Andy steals a car and almost immediately crashes it. One area where it doesn’t even attempt to follow in the first film’s paw prints, though, is the transformations, which are accomplished via rubbery-looking CGI. The fully transformed wolves are also digital creations, with the few practical effects reserved for extreme closeups. Instead of taking stock of this and realizing which effects were convincing and which were not, Hollywood doubled down on the ones and zeroes, believing that eventually technology would catch up to what Rick Baker accomplished with latex appliances and sheer ingenuity. Twenty years later, we’re still waiting.