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A waste of time, money and talent

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I used to love to write bad reviews. Back in the late 90s, when I was lucky enough to review movies for Newsweek.com, I was actually only lucky to get the stuff none of the real critics would bother with: crappy teen comedies, really weird foreign films, and second and third-rate action movies.

Every week I would figure out new ways to trash movies; I was thrilled when someone said, “Ted’s review is scathing.” One of my proudest moments was when Yahoo! News published a story about the reviews of Battlefield Earth and quoted my review in the introduction and conclusion of the article.

Now, as I approach 40, I find very little pleasure in that sort of negativity, even in those nearly pyrotechnic slams that some critics (like The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane or The Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov) specialize in.

Either it’s the antidepressants, an overload of empathy or just simple maturity, but I don’t really want to participate in the blood sporting free-for-all that occurs whenever Lindsay Lohan or Michael Bay make a movie. Now, instead of seeing a bad movie and giddily imagining how I can shred it in print, I get sad.

And so Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters made me really, really sad. I thought about all of the people involved – not just Jeremy Renner and Famke Janssen but the key grip and best boy and the effects designers and unit publicists – and how they toiled for months, how tens of millions of dollars were spent, and for all that work, this is what they got: a boring and forgettable mess of fantasy action that misuses and or underuses its cast, crew and source material. What a waste.

Even though the wildly revisionist interpretations of fairy tales are being overdone (Red Riding Hood, Snow White & The Huntsman, this spring’s Jack the Giant Slayer), being trendy doesn’t necessarily mean being bad. Many of the superhero movies, for instance, have managed to be pretty good while also being omnipresent.

Obviously, it’s all in the execution. In Snow White & The Huntsman, many of the visuals and Charlize Theron’s performance were both inspired, for example.

The only thing approaching inspired about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is the cool idea of making a movie about how Hansel and Gretel grow up to become witch-slaying mercenaries. Everything else – the script, the acting, the special effects – was perfunctory.

Oh, witches use magic? I guess we should have some stuff shoot out of their wands then.

Instead of coming up with mean quips for this review, as I watched the movie, I started a list of ways it could have been better.

Hire a screenwriter with a ribald and weird sense of humor, because Tommy Wirkola’s attempts at making light fun of the film’s conceit were too tame and too clichéd; push the art direction either into Tim Burton’s stylized horror or Peter Jackson’s terrifyingly specificity, because the vaguely pre-modern German sets Wirkola had built were both too literal and cartoonish; don’t film in 3-D unless you have more than exploding shrapnel, swinging swords and speeding bullets to play with; don’t hire an actor of Jeremy Renner’s skills or stature and then not give him anything to act with.

I don’t think I was sad because I expected Hansel & Gretel to be good. It was released in that period after the holidays when the studio’s weakest offerings are dumped, and ads for the film have been relentless, and often the number of ads run for a film before its opening tends to be inversely proportional to its quality. If you can’t rely on word-of-mouth, you have to rely on a battering ram of marketing.

No, I was sad because the film was a waste of time, money and talent. There’s no joy in making fun of that.

MOVIE REVIEW

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola

Starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and Famke Janssen

Rated R

At your local multiplex



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Posted by on Jan 31, 2013. Filed under Movie Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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