January 31, 2013

A Machine-Gun Makeover With Sour Results

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I’ve heard of not judging a book by its cover, but did anyone ever say anything about not judging a movie by its title? When I hear Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, what comes to mind is surprisingly similar to the tirelessly used catch-phrase that our heroes belt out in jaded exasperation of all things witchy,“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Cheap one liners and accent incongruities abound in this modern take on the legendary Brothers Grimm fairy tale, but that’s not all that disappoints in this R-rated action fantasy.

The film starts off with a seemingly decent allusion to the true 1819 version of the tale. Hansel and Gretel are children driven from home by the wishes of their mother and led into the deep, dark forest by a reluctant father. From there, the children come across a life-sized confectionary house and gorge themselves on the sweet architecture, only to fall prey to a nasty old witch with a refined palate for German children. The witch keeps Hansel prisoner to fatten him up with sweets, while Gretel is enslaved and ordered to start the fire intended for roasting her captive brother. During an opportune moment, Hansel is freed and before the siblings push the witch into the fiery oven, the producers have pint-sized Gretel repeatedly stab the old crone, sending a rush of molasses-like blood onto her small, round face as the witch writhes and screams in agony. Fast forward about twenty years later, and the traditionally-garbed siblings are now leather-clad, steam punk artillery-weilding, mercenary bad-asses with an understandable vindictiveness towards witches.

Fans of gory medieval-themed fantasies like Van Helsing and The Brothers Grimm will be disappointed to see that the creativity and cleverness of those prior films does not shine through in this production, although Tommy Wirkola, Norwegian film director of Dead Snow, delivers plenty of blood ‘n’ guts explosions in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Leading man Jeremy Renner (Mission: Impossible, The Bourne Legacy, and The Avengers) admits that the film was not meant to satisfy critics and instead calls it “pure escapism,” yet amidst this fantasy world of black magic and a convenient brother and sister demon-hunting pair, forty-five minutes was enough for me to want to escape the movie theater. Characters receive two-scene introductions before we are told to oppose or root for them and moments of comic relief rely on cursing and the cringe-worthy tag lines of the sibling witch hunters who’ve apparently seen everything. Gemma Arterton (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia) stars opposite Renner as Gretel, the stoic and yet softer-hearted killing machine as far as pitying trolls and suffering from recurrent parental-abandonment issues goes. And while I must admit, it was the unforeseen Renner-Arterton duo that led me to watch this film, their performance together is nothing remarkable. With the exception of a few endearing brother-sister moments, Renner and Arterton’s performances lack conviction, but this one, I’m going to chalk up to abysmal dialogue and eye-rolling archetypical characters. The real dynamic duo of this film is Arterton’s cleavage and leather encased derriere which benefit from many strategically timed frames and action scenes. There’s a reason why Gretel gets smacked around so much more-so than her brother Hansel who seems to exhibit a proclivity for flesh wounds. At the very least, it is her character, and not Renner’s Hansel, that wields the crossbow, thankfully avoiding the looming film faux-pas that would have been “Hawkeye Hansel.”

Costume design and make-up won’t be winning any points here either. While Hansel and Gretel’s witch-hunting leather garb is enviable (seriously, who designed Gretel’s jacket and where can I buy one?) the grand-baddies of them all—the witches, look like cheap latex masks gone wrong in Party City Halloween wigs, when their faces aren’t morphed by CGI graphics that is. Probably the only homage to the original Grimm fairy tales that this film can muster is dedication to gory deaths and bloody mutilations. Of course, the formulaic 3-D action gore pattern of this film, mandates that the level of carnage and macabre death be ramped up ten-fold. After all, there are so many ways of killing something when you’ve got giant machine guns, multi-barreled assault rifles, crossbows, and the dark arts of the devil at your disposal. There’s a scene in which an unfortunate, novice witch hunter, infected with the “curse of hunger for crawling things,” runs back to the village a-la-Paul Revere to relay a message from the dark forces. In an emetic struggle to get his words out in time, the victim explodes all over his audience in a viscous shower of blood, entrails, and previously ingested larval crawlers. Gretel, removing a piece of small intestine from her bodice, is cooly unfazed. She “fucking hates” that curse. If you’re willing to pay a little more, you can experience this scene in 3-D so that bits of the blood-soaked viscera can appear to hurtle towards you!

The high action, heavy artillery fight scenes become repetitive and fail to keep your attention, and all the while the glaring nonsensical juxtaposition of guns, crossbows, and witchcraft in a medieval arena is enough to drive one mad. You’d think that with their vast repertoire of magic spells, the witches could conjure up some protective shield against a shower of bullets. Hansel and Gretel suffers from a lack of humor and an oversimplified good vs. bad motif.Arriving on the heels of the 2012 disaster that was Snow White and the Huntsman, here’s hoping that this genre of “badass” Grimm fairy tales ends here. And before curiosity gets the best of you, sit tight. This one will be on Netflix instant streaming faster than you can say “hocus pocus.”

Original Author: Katherine Carreno