Thursday, March 10, 2011

A somber, silly 'Red Riding Hood'

Red Riding Hood tries to enter a teen-oriented Twilight zone. This dismal failure is redeemed only by the occasional inadvertently evoked laugh.
Red Riding Hood: "Why, Mr. Critic, what big claws you have." Critic: "The better to rip you to shreds." Venom, like most potent drinks, should be poured judiciously, and Red Riding Hood is too easy a target to bear the brunt of a totally brutal assault. Besides, a lack of epic scale keeps the movie from entering the upper echelon of big-screen stinkeroos, although it definitely earns its place among a host of less important flops.

Aside from the fact that the movie springs from an idea as generic as it is bad - a werewolf terrorizes a medieval village - Red Riding Hood suffers from undistinguished direction, wretched writing and acting that ranges from bland (the movie's young leads) to overwrought (Gary Oldman as Solomon, a werewolf hunter).

The movie's marketing calculations seem obvious. Red Riding Hood looks as if it has been designed to appeal to the Twilight crowd, right down to the hiring of director Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight movie.

The cast, I presume, is meant to make young hearts flutter. Amanda Seyfried portrays Valerie, the movie's title character. Two suitors: Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) and Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) fight over Valerie.

So much for the eye candy.

Of the adult cast, only Julie Christie (as Grandma) seems to have any inkling of what the movie could have been, showing occasional flashes of leering, subversive wit.

I was half-tempted to begin this review by proclaiming Red Riding Hood the best comedy of the year, but decided against it because all the laughs are inadvertent, deriving mostly from a ton of portentous dialog.

-- "It was the most brutal winter I could remember."

-- "Come with me or the streets will run red with blood."

Or my favorite, an exchange between villagers after someone suggests that Valerie be handed over to the wolf, a snarling, scrawny computer-generated beast the size of a pony.

One villager: "You can't give her to the wolf. That's human sacrifice."

Another: "We've all made sacrifices."

Ain't that the truth?

Some of the additional chuckles derive from the movie's attempt to draw class distinctions among the squalid townsfolk who suffer through a dark, cold winter that's punctuated with werewolf attacks.

We learn, for example, that a woodcutter earns far less than a blacksmith. That's why Valerie's mother (Virginia Madsen) wants her daughter to marry blacksmith Henry instead of woodcutter Peter. She urges her daughter to move on up, as it were. For her part, Valerie - who provides the movie with occasional bits of narration - insists on following her heart.

Seyfried, who seemed so promising on TV's Big Love has yet to show much A-list potential on the big screen. She spends much of Red Riding Hood looking perplexed, as she peers out from beneath the hood of her trademark red cloak, a gift from Grandma.

Of course, the Red Riding Hood story is well known, so it's up to the filmmakers to find some juicy subtext and oddball embellishments.

How's this for an add-on? A sinister Oldman arrives in town with a giant iron elephant in tow; we eventually learn why he's traveling with such a bizarre prop, putting an end to what might be the movie's only real mystery -- and a minor one at that.

Screenwriter David Johnson (Orphan) dabbles in themes that range from sexual to silly, with the two often overlapping.

He also introduces a variety of red herrings to go along with Valerie's red cloak. Because the wolf spends most of its time as as human, we're led to wonder whether he could be hiding in the guise of the village dullard or an earnest looking fellow who signs up for wolf hunts or, of course, in the person of grandma, who lives in a cabin outside the village and serves Valerie unappetizing bowls of gruel.

All, however, is not grim. At one point, the villagers believe that they've killed the wolf. Their celebration involves a communal dance scene that's something to behold: Swaying villagers getting down with their bad selves.

I've read that the movie has been transformed into a novel by author Sarah Blakley-Cartwright. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, Blakley-Cartwright "would spend as many as 14 hours each day writing, occasionally taking a break from her typewriter to visit the set or interview the characters for inspiration."

I'm amazed that anyone could spend 14 minutes writing about this misbegotten tale, but that - as they say - is another story.

A blood moon announces the worst of the werewolf attacks. By the time it arrives, I found myself thinking that the only thing that could have made this movie any more preposterous would have been the arrival of Sarah Palin to shoot the wolf from a plane that was speeding over the fog-shrouded landscapes. Come to think of it, that would have added a welcome touch of lunacy to a movie that's too somber to recognize its own silliness.

No comments: