According to legend, a silver bullet can kill a werewolf. Too bad it can’t slay bad writing, without which the ill-conceived Red Riding Hood would not exist.
One in an upcoming and inexplicable series of movies based on fairy tales, Red Riding Hood is baffling from the start, an obvious attempt to cash in, now that Edward and Bella’s story is finally coming to an end, on Twilight fans’ desperation for new supernatural love triangles starring oppressively attractive young people.
The film is even by directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who did a decent job with the first Twilight movie despite being burdened with the concept of sparkly vampires. Red Riding Hood makes that movie seem deep and nuanced. It’s so silly and banal that not even the great Gary Oldman’s scenery-chewing turn as a werewolf hunter can make it worth your time.
The film stars Amanda Seyfried (Letters to Juliet) as medieval village girl Valerie, who is betrothed to one pretty boy (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) but in love with another (Shiloh Fernandez, who would look more at home on 90210). Mom (Virginia Madsen; poor, poor Virginia Madsen) has vetoed the guy her daughter likes because he’s a woodcutter like Valerie’s dad (Billy Burke), which is apparently a big barrier to upward mobility.
But there are bigger problems afoot: The town is being terrorized by a rapacious wolf. (It’s also being menaced by a purveyor of bad hair extensions, but nobody seems too worried about that.) The townspeople have managed to appease the monster with prime livestock, but the wolf reneges on this long-standing deal and kills Valerie’s sister.
Enter the famous wolf hunter Father Solomon (Oldman), who informs everyone that this is no ordinary predator but a werewolf who walks as a man by day and could be anyone in the village.
The characters begin asking each other, “Do you think I’m the wolf?” and Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie) spouts ye olde pithy sayings (“All sorrows are less with bread”). Later, there’s a medieval rave — mead being the drug of choice — that apparently makes the wolf really angry, because he shows up and slaughters half the town. Before he flees, he has a revealing conversation with Valerie. At this point, you’re pretty much longing for sparkly vampires.
The whole enterprise is idiotic, lacking even the winking tone that might make it bearable (Valerie’s “what big eyes you have” elicits groans, not knowing chuckles). The story is so thin the filmmakers struggle mightily to stretch the running time. Oldman does his best Spanish Inquisition imitation, making the movie seem even more like an old Monty Python sketch than it would otherwise. And I’ve seen more convincing medieval villagers at the Renaissance Festival.
Let Red Riding Hood be a lesson to all those trying to capitalize on fairy tales: Sometimes, the happy ending only comes when the movie is blessedly over.
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Lukas Haas, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke.
Screenwriter: David Johnson.
Producers: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Alex Mace, Julie Yorn.
A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 100 minutes. Violence, terror, sensuality. Opens Friday March 11 at area theaters