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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
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by Jay Seaver

"Missing the bit with the breadcrumbs, but not a whole lot else."
4 stars

When last we saw Tommy Wirkola, he took the high concept of "zombie Nazis" and made "Dead Snow", a low-budget Norwegian action-horror movie that made up for a lot of shaky elements with sheer enthusiasm. It got Hollywood's attention, and after a bit of a delay he's back with "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters", whose high concept is right in the title, and while more in the way of resources doesn't mean perfection, the glee at making a nutty movie still helps a lot.

The Brothers Grimm published the fairy tale two hundred years ago: A brother and sister are left in the woods, find a house made of candy with a witch who wants to fatten them up and eat them, only to have the tables turned and wind up in her own oven. After the fairy tale ends, the orphans kept killing witches, and making good money at it too. Now, the mayor of a small German town has hired Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) to find the witch who has kidnapped ten local children. The Sheriff (Peter Stormare) thinks an immigrant, Mina (Pihla Viitala), to be a likely suspect, but the siblings soon find something bigger is going on: Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) has big plans for the upcoming Blood Moon.

The tone of the movie is established early on - yes, the young Hansel and Gretel have a decidedly non-slapstick fight for their lives, but the audience's first glimpse of the movie's "present day" is illustrations of the missing children tied to glass milk bottles in a bit of obvious but kind of amusing anachronism. Historical verisimilitude is not given a whole lot of consideration, especially once you get to Hansel's machine guns and the generally informal twenty-first century speech. It gives the movie a laid-back feel - they're not even pretending that this fits in any unnoticed corner of real history, just going for what's going to be fun for the audience.

It's especially fun if the audience likes the sort of gory action that's as much punchline as gross-out. There was a lot of Evil Dead 2 in Dead Snow, and Hansel & Gretel continues the Sam Raimi influence - it may be less intestine-intensive, but it's filled with gushing blood and mayhem (although the blood is more often CGI than not), and Wirkola happily tosses Renner, Arterton, and the supporting cast around in much the same way Raimi would abuse Bruce Campbell. The witches and trolls are done up in big, colorful latex make-up jobs, and the action has a consistent over-the-top feel (based on how easily people and objects go through walls, smash things up, or fly across the forest, I'd say momentum is mass times velocity times, like, five, by this movie's physics).

That makes for dumb-ish fun, but Wirkola's script and direction deserve a little more credit than that: The movie's mythology makes a certain amount of sense even as it does seem rather custom-built for the story. The big fight against a whole gathering of witches at the end has enough imaginative variations on the trope (including a few from what appear to be non-European cultures) that I suspect more thought went into it than was strictly necessary. Things get just serious enough at times to move the story forward or for a fight to have consequences without shifting gears into anything close to overwrought melodrama. The jokes are a bit hit-or-miss, but are seldom the sort of empty quips or sight gags that can stop things dead when they flop.

The cast fits in with the laid-back style, and at times it would be nice if they asserted themselves a bit more. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are both good-looking, capable actors, and the moments where they do get to bounce off each other as siblings are pretty good, but they're sort of treated as movie stars who bring their own personae, and, well, they aren't quite yet. Pihla Viitala and Thomas Mann are good sidekicks with crushes, and Peter Stormare and Bjorn Sundquist do OK as the local cops who respectively resent and assist the heroes. Famke Janssen is good enough to make ridiculous monologues delivered underneath heavy make-up more threatening than silly without overdoing it. None of them ever really get tripped up, but they've all done better.

It's a fun movie to look at, too - the candy house looks right, the weapons are clockwork fun, and, heck, the costumes make slick black leather work without getting too fetish-y (the 3D conversion is competent but disposable). "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" doesn't quite pull all of its silly elements together into mad genius, but it is an amusing hour and a half that moves well and splatters nicely.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22654&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/26/13 18:57:36
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User Comments

2/22/14 Charles Tatum Everything Van Helsing should have been 4 stars
7/04/13 garth8769 Bloody and mercifully short. 3 stars
6/13/13 Stephanie Grant Not what I expected...which made it a wonderful movie! 5 stars
6/08/13 roidashian shooting witches with steam punk + humor?=good 4 stars
3/13/13 radium56 Very funny, cool weaponry, annihilation of enemies (a lot of them) is a pure joy! 5 stars
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  25-Jan-2013 (R)
  DVD: 11-Jun-2013


  DVD: 11-Jun-2013

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