It seems that Hollywood is no longer content with just crapping on my generation's childhood with new takes on “The Smurfs”, “Transformers”, and “G.I. Joe”, and have now moved on to going after the childhoods of many generations with films like “Beastly”, “Snow White”, and this movie, “Red Riding Hood”. These are not your normal sugar-coated, Disneyfied re-tellings though; these are dark, gritty, sexy, but still only PG-13 takes aimed squarely at the Twilighters out there.
Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”), directs this version of the classic tale of the little girl who finds herself running afoul of the big, bad wolf on her way to grandmother's house, only this girl isn't so little, it's living anime character, Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer's Body”). Seyfried plays Valerie, daughter of a woodcutter, Cesaire (Billy Burke: “Twilight”, “Drive Angry 3D”) and Suzette (Virginia Madsen: “The Haunting in Conneticut”). Valerie lives an angsty medieval life; she is in love with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a young woodcutter who has been her friend since childhood, but she has been promised the Henry (Max Irons), a kind and talented young blacksmith who would much more easily give her the lifestyle her mother wants her to have. Oh whatever is she to do?
Valerie's boy troubles are only slightly overshadowed by the fact that her village (located somewhere in the kingdom of Southern California if the accents are any indication) is terrorized every full moon by a werewolf. For many years this has not been a problem; the townspeople merely leave some livestock out as a sacrifice and hide themselves away. This changes when the wolf claims the life of one of the townspeople.
Suddenly the town is in a panic, and while Father Auguste (Lukas Haas: “Inception”) sends for a famous witch-hunter and wolf-slayer, many of the town's men go out to hunt the werewolf, and kill it once and for all. They think their efforts are successful, but when the witch-smeller, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman: “The Book of Eli”) arrives, he warns them that what they killed was not the werewolf at all. Fear not,though, because he and his multicultural private army will sniff out the true wolf and slay it.
If you get a “Twilight”-y kind of feel from this movie's trailers, there's a good reason for it. Not only did Hardwicke direct the first film in that series, and Billy Burke act in it, but many other characters feel directly lifted from it too. Valerie is very much an expy for Bella Swan, but without the fear of aging. Peter is a combination of Edward and Jacob, but without all the creepy stalker behaviour and glitter, and Henry feels an awful lot like Mike Newton. In some ways this movie almost feels like a sort of “Twilight” fan-fic.
I mentioned before that the medieval townsfolk all talk like they are from Los Angeles, and while this may have been a wise directorial decision (All of them trying to fake any type of European accent would likely have been a mess), it makes the one character who does have a strong accent stand out even more. Gary Oldman's portrayal of Solomon is a perfect example of why sometimes not trying is better than trying too hard. At first he sounds like he is supposed to be German, but from there it just goes to crap as his accent wanders all over the place. This is not a slight on his portrayal, as his character was one of the best in the film, but an entire film of people doing this would have been incredibly annoying.
The film was pretty much what I expected it to be for about the first two thirds. Crazed overacting and lip-biting angst broken up by some fairly decent action sequences (featuring fairly dodgy special effects) while Valerie tries to not only choose which man she should go with, but tries to figure out who the wolf is. The film tries to keep you guessing about these two things as well.
There is no attempt to subtly hint at who you should suspect for wolfhood either. The movie bludgeons you over the head with red herring after red herring trying to make you suspect different people. Is it Grandma? Peter? Prudence? Henry? I will say, and this is one of the major things that keeps this movie from being completely awful, I did not correctly guess who the wolf was. My wife says she suspected the correct person, so I may just be dense, but it is the thing I found most satisfying about the film.
I'm sure you're wondering how one goes about stretching a story that most people tell in fifteen minutes into a one hundred minute movie? The answer is to spend the first hour completely ignoring that story. The first hour of the film is all about Valerie and her two suitors with some wolf attacks and the occasional steamy, but still PG-13, kissing scene thrown in for flavour. It's only in about the last twenty minutes of the film that they manage to cram in something like the traditional story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, complete with the “What big eyes you have” scene (and Amanda Seyfried commenting on the largeness of anyone's eyes was enough to make me laugh). It feels a little rushed after the slow pace of the first three quarters of the movie, but the ending is more satisfying than I was expecting.
I know it sounds like I liked parts of this movie, and I did in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way, but that doesn't mean I would recommend it to anyone. This is a movie for hardcore Twilighters only, and even then only for the ones that liked the movies. The acting ranges from wooden to narmy, and while the action sequences are well choreographed (even if the effects look a little dated) there simply are not enough of them to save the movie from itself. The only possible reason to see this in a theater, assuming you're not one of the aforementioned hardcore Twilighters, is for the fun of trying to guess who the wolf is, but you know what? You can do that for a lot less at home when it comes out on DVD.
“Red Riding Hood” wanders out of the forest and into theaters March 11th.