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My, what a nonsensical story you have: “Red Riding Hood”

March 14, 2011

The folk tale Little Red Riding Hood is about sex, right? I mean, we’re all pretty much agreed on that, aren’t we? Red hood…wolf in the bed…”better to eat you with”…you following? If not, there are veritable oceans of literature on subject you can look up. And while you’re at it, you can check out how The Last Starfighter is actually about child molestation.  Ah, but we are talking about Red Riding Hood, because the newest film version of it to his the screen features Amanda Seyfried in the title role, who, with her anime eyes and pillow lips, is the living definition of nubile.  With her at its center, and coping with the amorous advances of two hunky dudes, it would seem that  any retelling of that fateful trip to grandmother’s house must certainly be about sex—either having it or wanting it. Alas, dear reader, there is also a big-ass werewolf to contend with. And religious fantacism. Really, by the time this weirdo film has ended, there has been precious little heaving-bosom action. If I was a 14 year-old girl, this film would have really ticked me off.

Red Riding Hood unfolds in the village of Daggerhorn, a ye olde-timey village that looks like an illustrator for a new edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales got a little overenthusiastic. Valerie (Seyfried) grew up as a bit of tomboy, always looking for trouble with her guy-pal Peter. Well, Valerie grows up to be Seyfried, and Peter into a slab of man-candy played by Shiloh Fernandez (who improbably seems to have found the only stash of ye olde hair gel in Daggerhorn). Unfortunately, Valerie’s mom, Suzette (Virginia Madsen), has betrothed her to hunky Henry (Max Irons) who is the local blacksmith, and, we are told, a much better financial prospect (blacksmiths, apparently, being ye olde timey’s answer to Jewish doctors). Okay, so we got the love triangle established, but before bosoms can heave too much, a werewolf kills Valerie’s sister. Yeah, apparently the town has a werewolf.

So, then men-folk (led by Colonel Tigh, taking a break from getting soused and punching Cylons in the face) go into the nearby caves to kill the beast. And kill it they do, though not before Henry’s dad gets killed in the process. Still they’re all pretty happy about it. Problem is, the local vicar, Father Auguste (Lukas Haas, having moved nicely into the “creepy celibate-guy” phase of his career) has already called in a ringer, who arrives the next day. Said ringer is a professional werewolf hunter named Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, apparently having abandoned ever making serious films for the rest of his life).

Solomon arrives in flamboyant fashion: in ye olde timey motorcade, complete with African guards in armor, and a dude who points his crossbow at the unarmed and befuddled villagers for no discernable reason. He has also brought his big set-piece: a huge wood-stove shaped like an elephant that suspects are thrown inside of and smoke-cooked until they confess (not making this up…how could I make this up?) Well, Solomon informs them that, no, they didn’t kill the right wolf, and that the real werewolf is still among them.

The villagers don’t buy this and, instead, celebrate the killing of the wolf in a wild bacchanal during which people get hammered and wear animal masks, and pretend to sodomize each other, and…well, it’s just really weird. There’s a chick who dresses up in a Tina Turner wig and dances suggestively…I really don’t know what the hell was going on here I gotta admit. In the meantime, Peter dances with another girl, and that gets Valerie mad, so she dances a bit…well, long story short, the werewolf attacks and pretty much makes a hash of the festival. In the process it corners Valerie and one of her buds and asks her to come with him away from the village. Yeah, Valerie shares telepathy with the werewolf.

Well, Solomon goes into overdrive, ransacking homes, interrogating villagers, and even throwing the village idiot in the elephant for no good reason except that he’s low-hanging fruit. This doesn’t yield much, but eventually he learns Valerie can communicate with the wolf. This fact plus her tomboyish past convinces him that she’s in league with the wolf, so he makes her wear and aardvark mask (seriously, could I make this up?) and marches her through the village. Then he stakes her as bait and waits for the wolf. Unfortunately for Solomon, Valerie’s love interests work together to free her, and the wolf attacks around the same time and everything pretty much goes to hell in a handbasket.

Anyway, there’s some intrigue and some more werewolf action…honestly, I’m bored with this movie. Let’s just say it all hashes out in the end, but not very excitingly. You aren’t exactly going to be discussing the movie’s denoument Monday at the water-cooler, or slurpee shop or wherever. 

This is a weird movie, if you haven’t picked up on that already. I’m really not sure what the filmmakers were shooting for, and maybe they don’t either. The screenplay is by David Johnson (of—ow!—Orphan), so we don’t really have a strong storyteller there. Slightly—very slightly—more accomplished is Catherine Hardwicke, who was famously removed from the Twilight series after the first installment, and it’s logical to expect this movie to trod similar ground. Yet it doesn’t. The love triangle gets forgotten for big chunks of the movie in place of the werewolf/religious nutcase subplot.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Hardwicke had never directed a movie before this one, as many shots and scenes are either nonsensical or just play out ludicrously on screen. I get that she amped up the stylization of the setting—she crafts a dreamy, fairy-tale look for the village—but she doesn’t seem to know when to reign it in before it looks ridiculous. The clouds of fake-snow are beautiful at first, but it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that it doesn’t melt and just sticks in people’s hair and beards and action scenes give it the consistency of gravel. Then you have your aardvark mask and pagan bacchanal and dialogue like, “take him to the elephant!” Not ten minutes of this film go by without raising the question, “Did she actually watch any of the footage she shot?”

It’s hard to imagine what these people were going for. Hardwicke is a connoisseur of teen horniness, yet there isn’t a spark of passion to be found in the love triangle, and barely a kiss shared on screen. It doesn’t help that Fernandez and Irons are atrocious actors. Even with a decent script I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have brought much but some pouty publicity stills. The werewolf stuff is pretty rote, and it’s never incorporated into the Red Riding Hood fairy tale in any interesting way. Really, you could have set this movie in contemporary Anywhere, USA and it’d still work. I kinda get the feeling this was an idea Johnson kicked around while huffing model glue and then when he came to, he just decided to rip off The Wolfman instead.

Seyfried, Madsen, and, as grandmother, Julie Christie do their best with what they’re given, but, really there’s not much they can do with this muddle. I was hoping Oldman would bring some of his particular brand of crazy to the proceedings, but apparently he couldn’t even be bothered to overact. Man, how bored does Gary Oldman have to be not to even overact? About as bored as I was during this flick.

There are a lot of very disappointed 14 year-old girls walking out of the multiplexes this weekend…

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