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Red Riding Hood (2011)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Catherine, What A Big Piece Of #$&^ You Have"
1 stars

Although there will probably be worse films to emerge in the coming year--after all, we still have "Transformers 3" and "The Smurfs," both in 3D, mind you, to look forward to--I can't imagine that one will come along as convulsively idiotic as "Red Riding Hood," Catherine Hardwicke's spectacularly silly attempt to recreate the success of the "Twilight" saga (of which she directed the first installment before getting unceremoniously kicked to the curb) by grafting its turgid tale of the romance between a vapid virginal girl and the hunky-but-bland boy who may also be a supernatural creature of the night onto the framework of the classic Grimms Brothers fairy tale. Alas, the end result is more grim than Grimm--a ridiculously overblown misfire that is the most unintentionally hilarious movie to come along since "Burlesque" and at least in the case of that film, the wolves on display were far more convincing. Seriously, if you, by some insane impulse, decide to actually see this thing, be sure to turn around and check out your fellow audience members once the film ends and the lights go up--my guess is that unless they fit right into the target audience of overly melodramatic 13-year-old girls (whom are catered to so slavishly here that you can practically feel the film cutting itself throughout), they will have the kind of stunned expressions not seen since the first night crowd for "Springtime for Hitler" got a load of the opening number, a model of subtlety and restraint compared to what is on display here.

The film takes place in the isolated village of Daggerhorn, a bizarre-looking burg that has been plagued for 20 years by a werewolf that they have been sacrificing animals to once a month in order to protect themselves. Among the villagers is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a winsome young lass who currently has bigger problems to deal with than a silly old werewolf. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) has arranged for her to marry Henry (Max Irons), a stable-but-boring dope who can easily provide for her future but her heart pines for Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a studly-but-brooding woodcutter who is poor but who shares a special bond with her from back when they were kids playing in the woods and capturing and gutting bunny rabbits for fun. One night, the wolf strikes and kills Valerie’s sister (who was herself carrying a torch for Henry) and the townspeople, fearing that this is only the beginning, sends for famed werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to slay the beast. While he isn’t very good at actually killing the beast, he does manage to transform the town into a seething hotbed of paranoia in which anyone--Peter, Henry, Father Solomon, village twerp Aguste (Lukas Haas), even Valerie’s brooding father (Billy Burke) and mysterious grandmother (Julie Christie. . .yes, Julie Christie)--could be the monster.

The notion of taking the basic premise of “Little Red Riding Hood” and expanding on it to explore its psycho-sexual underpinnings is not necessarily a bad one--both Neil Jordan‘s “The Company of Wolves”(an adaptation of the acclaimed short story by Angela Carter) and the vastly underrated “Freeway” (a bloody contemporary dark comedy with Reese Witherspoon and Keifer Sutherland as the big, bad serial killer obsessed with her)did wonders with the concept. While there are any number of problems with “Red Riding Hood,” the biggest one by far is that the screenplay by David Johnson is a pathetic mess that fails to provide even a whisper of originality. Instead, he has turned in a narrative that blatantly apes the framework of “Twilight” while also serving as a sub-Agatha Christie mystery in which everyone gets a few minutes to look suspicious before either proving their innocence or getting killed off by the wolf. The problem is that while the idea of a teen girl swooning over a mysterious suitor who is a vampire is reasonably palatable, it is much more difficult to contemplate the concept of one falling for a four-legged beast. (Hell, the winsome Willow tried it on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and it wound up driving her to lesbianism.) The mystery aspect is an equal failure because it spends so much time trying to make every single character seem guilty for a while that whatever meager tension the story might have contained disappears long before the big reveal at the climax, a weird bit of ickiness that might have seemed like a good idea in theory but which completely fails in the execution. (Johnson’s previous screenplay was for the patently ridiculous thriller “Orphan” and the big twist here might have actually fit in better at the end of that film.)

The script also contains the kind of logical lapses that are so massive that it seems impossible that no one at any stage of the film’s production seems to have noticed them. For example, much is made of the fact that the beast cannot set foot on hallowed ground. If that were the case, one might assume that the best way to ferret out the identity of the monster would be to invite all the townspeople to a mandatory box social at the church and use the list of people who didn’t show to reduce the suspect pool. Alas, this idea never occurs to the allegedly brilliant werewolf hunter Father Solomon and as a result, many townspeople wind up getting turned into doggie chow. Then again, based on the fact that Solomon doesn’t really have any concrete proof to back up his claims of vanquishing werewolves and that the first time he and his men battle the wolf leads to many of them getting picked off as well, there is the possibility that he is just a bad werewolf hunter who has been faking his triumphs all along. Lucky for him, he has arrived in a town where the competition for the title of Village Idiot is unusually strong and no one seems to notice his general incompetence

Speaking of incompetence, perhaps it isn’t fair to single out the screenplay because virtually every other aspect of the film is both ridiculously conceived and ineptly executed. Hardwicke fumbles the material here so completely that it is a wonder that she still manages to find people willing to hire her--the story unfolds in such an inert and visually flat manner that it looks at times like a video of the world’s most expensive and awkwardly staged high school production. The performances, with one exception that I will get to in a bit, are universally terrible--Seyfried is pretty much a drip throughout, the guys playing her two suitors are so pretty-but-lifeless that they appear to have studied acting by taking an extension class at the Handsome Boy Modeling School and Julie Christie looks frankly stricken at some of the lines she is forced to recite. The technical aspects are all subpar to boot. The village itself is so fake looking, and not in the kind of stylized manner that one might expect from this kind of story, that it makes the town in “Dogville” look lush and convincing by comparison. (The shabbiness of the production design is especially surprising when you consider that this area was Hardwicke’s specialty before she stumbled into directing.) The cinematography is all unmotivated swoops and unmotivated close-ups that struggle to create the kind of dramatic tension that the screenplay failed to provided. The music is the kind of sub-emo slop that is constantly at odds with the material but which is sure to sell CD’s and downloads, which is the only apparent reason for its existence.

Then there are the scenes that are so jaw-droppingly ridiculous that it is impossible to respond to them with anything other than incredulous laughter. Although virtually every scene in the film could qualify, I will limit myself to only three. The first involves the arrival of Father Solomon in a manner not seen since Groucho Marx’s entrance in “Animal Crackers” and featuring a posse that includes his young children (who are then never seen again), a couple of aide-de-camps who bear an unfortunate resemblance to the other two guys from the Black-Eyed Peas and a giant metal elephant that he utilizes as a torture device. The next comes during the celebration thrown by the village when they think that they have killed the werewolf--a ludicrous pageant that plays like a cross between the endless rave from “The Matrix Reloaded” and the long-lost fertility dance sequence from the musical version of “Lost Horizon,” complete with girl-on-girl grinding that seems more appropriate for spring break than in the wintry woods of Bavaria or wherever the hell the film is supposed to take place. The last is a bewildering dream sequence in which Valerie gets to comment to her grandmother on the size of her eyes, ears and teeth--I guess the filmmakers felt that they had to shoehorn it in somewhere but they couldn’t have chosen a clumsier way of doing it if they tried.

The only saving grace in “Red Riding Hood” is Gary Oldman’s delightfully unhinged performance as Father Solomon. If Seyfried brings the big eyes to the table, the big teeth belong to Oldman and he uses them to chomp away at the scenery with such ferocity that he often seems more of a threat to the townspeople than the comparatively tame wolf--even his infamously over-the-top turns in “Leon” and “The Fifth Element” pale in comparison to the histrionics he supplies here. My guess is that he realized early on in the production that he was stuck in the midst of a load of gibberish and decided that the only way to survive and amuse himself was to see just how far out he could take things. While the results probably won’t play a big part in any future lifetime achievement award clip reels, it does bring some life to the otherwise idiotic proceedings surrounding it. Other than that, “Red Riding Hood” is a colossal misfire from start to finish that manages to achieve the near-impossible task of almost making the actual “Twilight” films seem better in retrospect.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20777&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/12/11 19:10:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/17/12 Ramrod Amanda Seyfried get married and GO AWAY. 1 stars
3/12/12 Where will my next favorite actress come from? Amanda Seyfried should've left wasted enough alone, but then played in IN TIME. Sad. 3 stars
6/18/11 Jennifer Barr very confusing and boring 1 stars
5/29/11 chris c Leave for the bad Twilight Remake stay for the Insane Gary Oldman Performance 2 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles Boring crap 2 stars
5/09/11 Shaun A Amanda Seyfried elevates the material to popcorn-enjoyable. 4 stars
4/30/11 DK Looks great, has a few worthy moments, lame love triangle and clunky twist sink it though 2 stars
4/25/11 Lenny Zane Too much dark atmosphere, too little heart. Even magnificent Amanda Seyfried can't save it. 3 stars
3/25/11 M. Rogers Not that bad, but nothing to write home about. 3 stars
3/24/11 Saif A. Khan Brace yourself folks! Hardwicke tackles Hamlet next!!! 1 stars
3/23/11 Roy Smith I love Amanda Seyfried in a not strictly platonic way. 4 stars
3/15/11 ravenmad Weak story, loose, boring at times. Could have been darker. Much darker. 2 stars
3/15/11 John clark if they kept this a murder mystery it would've worked. "my what a crappy script you have" 1 stars
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  11-Mar-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Jun-2011

  15-Apr-2011 (12A)

  07-Apr-2011 (M)
  DVD: 14-Jun-2011

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