Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Mediocre HANSEL AND GRETEL Projects Film For A While, Then Stops

(dir. Tommy Wirkola, 2012)

Here is one missed opportunity that wouldn't have amounted to much anyway. A wannabe cheeky concoction of fairy tale lore and bloody 3D gore, "Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters" doesn't so much run from beginning to end as it does stumble aimlessly until director Tommy Wirkola puts it out of its misery.

Some movies exist to enlighten. Others exist to entertain. "Hansel And Gretel" seems to exist largely to distract you from the fact that other movies exist. Honestly, I care so little about it, I'm not bothering to write the ampersand that officially takes the place of "and" in the title. Eh, it's difficult to find on the numbers row, and "30 Rock" starts in an hour.

Stupid but fun, I can accept. Abject horribleness I can even get on board with. "Hansel And Gretel" instead plops in that dreaded trench of mediocrity. Nothing redeems it. Nothing stands out. The plot is telegraphed miles ahead of schedule, so as it hits key points, beat by beat, you can feel the grinding of its gears.

Such a shame, because as an exercise in genre mash-up, the movie coulda been harmless fun. Jeremy Renner continues his apparent Leap Year pledge to say yes to anything by showing up as Hansel to Gemma Arterton's Gretel, who encountered a witch as kids and were cursed to be the only characters in their movie without German accents. Despite this crippling setback, they grow up with a drive to slay witches and luckily they find a bunch to kill, otherwise we'd just be stuck watching our graves fly 88 minutes closer to us, all in 3D!

What's frustrating is I know exactly what they're going for. Not a classic, mind you. The results would always be hollow. What they're going for, and what the movie distressingly lacks, is "fun." This was supposed to be fun. Gore flying at the screen, characters cracking wise amidst serious settings, snarky anachronisms - all the ingredients are here.

The problem is that no one involved seems to want to be there. There's no devilish glee in the actors or the director or the script. No sense of getting away with something. A casual viewer might suspect we're watching the result of a cheesy sitcom pilot, where a film crew gets into a car accident, and because they have no insurance, the judge forces them to make an R-rated splatter flick.

Wirkola shoots in a flat, static style - his camera not so much involved in the action as documenting it. Everything sorta occurs in front of the lens that just happens to be there. And his script with Dante Harper offers no zing, no wit. Instead of the impudent romp they evidently wanted, lines just lie on the page, like a dead slug. Also telling to Wirkola's lack of commitment to character: important-seeming traits are raised and discarded at will, as subplots are similarly cast aside when he becomes bored with them.

All appropriate, though, for a movie that amounts to nothing.

Neither tightly propulsive nor gloriously over the top, "Hansel And Gretel" now joins the pantheon of movies that technically qualify as movies. May it wear its paper crown well.