Saturday, March 12, 2011

review | Red Riding Hood

A WOLF IN CHEAP CLOTHING | A bedtime story for people who hate bedtime stories and just wanna get to that sweet, delicious sleep already, RED RIDING HOOD drowsily dips the European folktale that Charles Perrault popularized in the late 1600s into a formula specially brewed for maximum tween-girl squee. Raise a fist and bellow it angrily at the heavens with me, folks: TWIIILIIIIIGHT! And it's not enough that a familiar children's fable about a tragically nearsighted little girl and a not-so-prudent nocturnal creature has been reworked as a Hot Topic-primed supernatural love triangle. Genius Hollywood executives — seriously, give them a raise — actually hired Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke to stage Red Riding Hood's romantic languor and clumsy mystical intrigue. It makes sense. She has experience in both of those areas. At least Hardwicke, a former production designer, is successful with her dreamscape visuals: Set in a picturesque, old-timey village where the quaint cottages and surrounding forest are blanketed in perpetual winter, the film certainly has the flavor of a gorgeous storybook fantasia, which basically means that you get to look at nice things as you're lulled into a coma. The principle actors are also pretty, of course, if emotionally vacant. With her saucer eyes and pre-Raphaelite creaminess, Amanda Seyfried is a smart aesthetic choice — i.e., she's captivating in crimson — as Valerie, the town beauty who's knuckle-gnawingly torn between two handsome suitors: Walter (Max Irons), the dashing blacksmith, and Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), the sexy woodcutter. This is the kind of problem you wish you had, right? Dad (Billy Burke) and mom (Virgina Madsen's robot doppelgänger) are trying to steer our gal Val into an arranged marriage with Walter, but her little red riding heart forever belongs to Peter. "I know good girls aren't supposed to hunt rabbits or go into the woods alone, but since we were kids, he always had a way of making me want to break the rules," she tritely narrates. At the EXACT SAME MOMENT, I'm roused awake enough to notice the chunks rising in my throat. Coincidence?

Oh my gosh, I almost forgot about the wolf, reimagined here a weirdly reasonable werewolf who doesn't eat the townsfolk as long as they toss him a sacrificial piglet every once in a while. When he suddenly breaks the truce and mauls Valerie's sister, the local clerics panic and call for Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, histrionic but hardly hissable), a famed werewolf killer who's so superstitious that he had ye olde manicurist plate his nails with silver. A few questions, then: Why does Father Solomon plan to extract the werewolf's true identity by torturing everybody in the smokehouse chamber that's inside his portable brass elephant? Couldn't he just poke the entire community with his index finger and arrest the one dude who has a gnarly reaction? And when the werewolf is finally revealed at the end of the movie, how ridiculously stupid do his friends and/or family look? Didn't they find it extremely odd that he'd disappear whenever a terrifying monster prowled around the neighborhood? Did they think he was perpetually slipping out to grab a pack of Marlboros at the 7-11 down the street at the worst possible time? Hardwicke and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson (2009's Orphan, a trashy B-movie delight, I swear!) don't seem too concerned with making sense or managing consistency, as certain characters speak with a period-appropriate antiquated flourish — "All sorrows are less with bread" — while others carry on like the cast of Gossip Girl. Best worst use of anachronism: During an interminable celebration sequence where villagers make merry in the town square, Valerie pulls a girlfriend into the crowd to dance, attempting to bonerize Walter and Peter by rubbing up on her pal as though she's the 17th-century equivalent of a stripper pole. (A maypole?) Very intermittently, Red Riding Hood is goofy like that, and you'll giggle at something that's definitely not supposed to be funny. But those brief bursts of unintentional amusement give way to long passages in which young dipshits in love exchange smoldering glances as a broody electro-pop tune commandeers the soundtrack, and you'll promptly resume being bored to tears. Consider that a warning. Bring your own bread. D+ —Jasper

Rating: PG-13. Running time: 100 minutes.

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