REVIEW: Red Riding Hood [2011]

Score: 2/10 | ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 100 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Catherine Hardwicke
Writer(s): David Johnson

“All sorrows are less with bread”

Why, in movies, does a thrown axe/sword/dagger/knife always land squarely in the back of one’s opponent as he’s about to maim? Can’t it comically thud to the ground, short the half revolution necessary to inflict injury, allowing the antagonist to look at the camera with a twinkle in his eye before clawing the heroine’s face off? I know its Hollywood and audiences have preconceptions about good versus evil and all, but realistic physics mixed with plausible probability may help something called authenticity. But what am I saying—even an adult retelling (read Middle School level, fawning tween material) of a fairy tale needs its high style, fantastical nuances. Overwrought writing isn’t enough for David Leslie Johnson, he desires to maul our ears with an Old English brogue that comes in and out—depending on the actor—with an IQ score equal to Cole Heppell’s mentally deficient Claude. Between his heavy-handed script and Catherine Hardwicke’s unearned grandiose direction as though she has Shakespeare unfolding before her, I actually hoped for sparkling vampires. Instead, I got the most unintentionally hilarious film I’ve seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, that couldn’t even save Red Riding Hood.

Definition of ‘on the nose’ … how about a film culled out of a ‘Big Bad Wolf’ tale that not only contains a tongue-in-cheek rendition of The Three Little Pigs during a town wide Bacchanale, but also a dream sequence where our Red, Amanda Seyfried’s Valerie, tells a character who has been blatantly alluded to as the villain how big his/her eyes, ears, and teeth are? The levels of comedy are vast: a strangely stiff man in armor who, upon arrival to the story, holds a crossbow on innocent townsfolk while his leader, Gary Oldman’s vengeful priest Solomon, tells how he will save them from terror; a startling discovery on behalf of the liberal casting agent to get as many minorities as she could find to fill the three ‘outsider’ roles after populating the village with white-skinned actors, (and I use ‘actor’ loosely for those not having fun to collect an easy paycheck); and the fantastically witty jealousy-inducing sexual dance as Valerie, needing someone to grind while her love Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) frolicks with another, decides on a girl named Prudence. If the filmmakers got anything right, their utter stupidity made me keep watching to see how much worse it could get.

Populated by television thespians—many who I’ve enjoyed—this reimagining sticks surprisingly close to the tale we’ve all been read as children. Valerie’s village is rustic, dirty, and isolating, haunted by a werewolf who ravages its people if not appeased with sacrificial goats. Her father (Billy Burke) and Peter are both woodcutters, (not so subtly alluding to one or both being her ‘woodsman’ savior perhaps?), and her grandmother (Julie Christie), who the nursery rhyme’s wolf pretends to be, for some reason has a shadow easily construed as a beast and eyes eerily similar to the murderous creature, a detail we find out in a scene mixing Harry Potter parseltongue and The Neverending Story’s Nothing. So, witchcraft, lustful youth, traitorous friends, and religious fervor take hold of a morality tale and make it into a CW series with good looking, wooden actors—Fernandez and dumb-faced Prince William look-a-like Max Irons, as Henry, won’t be winning Oscars anytime soon—and sensual girls full of puppy love for forbidden boys. The film brims with hormonal angst, magnified by synth beats backing hauntingly strong vocals, overhead shots of the landscape enveloping characters to show the vastness of their love, and looks of fearfully stern bloodlust to win the girl by destroying her oppressor.

The kids are way too earnest for us to care about their vapid lives or whether they survive the carnage at all. Their utter lack of maturity or intelligence actually makes you hope the wolf will kill them all. That includes the adult protectors played by a trio of recent “Smallville” alums (Michael Shanks, Michael Hogan, and Adrian Holmes); a wasted Christine Willes, only allowed to scowl and creep rather than show her brilliant facility for compassionate comedy evidenced in “Dead Like Me” and “Reaper”; and B-movie stalwart Virginia Madsen, squanderer of career Renaissance after Sideways. Broad is an understatement for all their performances, but a gross mislabeling for Oldman, his ‘Man of God’/protective father/amoral vindictive slayer of beasts is so over-the-top it seems like he cultivated a made-up accent for the role. He is smarmy, disgusting, and vile as only he can be in the villainous turns that have defined his career and, thankfully, a guy who does appear to understand the joke. But most of the adult actors do, their main failure not letting the kiddies understand how schlocky Red Riding Hood is. Only Lukas Haas has the ability to give a serious performance and make it work.

So, disregard all the catchphrase rhetoric spewed forth on trailers and posters, this film is not powerful, scary, or good. It is laughably hilarious and I’d almost recommend you rent it to see for yourself. I may be wrong—the entire theatre seemed to be buying into the poorly written tome, silently awaiting the next revelation while I laughed audibly at the hamfisted absurdity onscreen. Only when the gentleman next to me asked three quarters of the way through whether I was enjoying it, later saying he thought it was absolutely horrible, did I realize the silence was perhaps stunned disgust at what a packed theatre had wasted 100 minutes on. It’s target demographic will eat it up no matter how bad, however, its rules of werewolving eventually explained through Blood Moons, generational passing, and the burning power of God while its prime suspects yearn to lose their shirts and ride into the twilight like their vampiric and shape-shifting brothers from that other series. You’ve seen the trailers, as well as Fernandez’s perpetually malicious rage, even when professing his love to Seyfried’s wasted semi-talent. You know he’s the culprit, right? Maybe. Did I pique your interest to find out? I hope not.

[1] Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Red Riding Hood (2011)
[2] Max Irons stars as Henry and Shiloh Fernandez stars as Peter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Red Riding Hood (2011)
[3] Amanda Seyfried stars as Valerie and Julie Christie stars as Red’s Grandmother in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Red Riding Hood (2011)

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