The classic German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel teaches children a very important lesson: Don't take candy or hospitality from strangers. "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," an "edgy and new" retelling of the classic bedtime story, teaches moviegoers a different, if equally significant lesson: Be warned, those who go to see a January release that has already been delayed for almost an entire year, it's because it is probably as enjoyable as the inevitable pre-novocaine root canal Hansel had to get after eating all of that candy.
The film opens with the famous story we all know and love. Hansel and Gretel are two German children who, after their father abandons them in the middle of a forest, come across a cabin made of candy (though I don't remember the original story saying the house was also made of bad CG). They're lured in and trapped by a horrible witch, who attempts to fatten up Hansel for eating. The witty youths end up outsmarting the sorceress and burning her inside an oven.
In case you gave up reading the film's title at the colon, the troubled kids grow up into famous witch hunters, played by current golden boy Jeremy Renner – the faint glimmer of "The Avengers" and "The Bourne Legacy" undoubtedly the only reason "Hansel and Gretel" isn't going straight-to-DVD – and Gemma Arterton (the "Clash of the Titans" remake). They're called into a new town to investigate a series of child abductions that smell like a witch's doing.
Of course, this is no average infestation. The local witches, led by Famke Janssen ("Taken 2"), are kidnapping kids for a ceremony involving blood moons and a potion that could make the demonic sorceresses flame-resistant. They also require Gretel for fairly predictable reasons tucked away in the sibling assassins' suppressed past.
"Hansel and Gretel" serves as the American debut for Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola, whose previous effort – the Nazi zombie horror flick "Dead Snow" – also sounds a lot more fun than it plays.
In several interviews, Wirkola named Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson as inspirations for his horror-comedy blends, but save for a clever running joke about Hansel's diabetes and a few gadgets, he brings none of the bloody wit or personality that made his predecessors so beloved. While "Evil Dead" and "Dead Alive" were fueled by dark imagination and wicked inventiveness, "Hansel and Gretel" feels lifeless and perfunctory. "Here's an action scene," the movie seems to boringly sigh. "Can we move on now?"
The lack of passion translates as impatience, as Wirkola's direction and storytelling rush from action scene to labored exposition and back again with no sense of pacing. The whole process leaves the plot and overly complicated mythology in tatters. It took me 20 minutes to realize the hastily introduced drama from the adult duo's opening scene was going to be the plot for the entire movie. It's never good when the story is so light and undeveloped, you're not sure if it even started.
Perhaps "Hansel and Gretel" the movie gets its disinterested sensibilities from Hansel and Gretel, the characters. It might be fun to imagine the storybook youths as assassins, but our title characters (as written by Wirkola and co-writer Dante Harper) have no time for fun – unfortunate considering Will Ferrell and his collaborator Adam McKay serve as producers. Instead, they're just standard-issue cocky action heroes, lazily spitting out f-bombs (get it? Because fairy tale characters wouldn't use profanity!) and humorless tough guy talk.
Despite the best efforts of the charismatic Renner (and the significantly less charismatic Arterton), they're not particularly unique or even enjoyable characters. Instead, the duo is just bland in their self-satisfied coolness. Considering the amount of times they're disarmed and fooled by the witches, they don't seem to be all that good at their strange profession either. We only hear about their famous witch-killing exploits over the opening credits, a move inspired either by budget cuts or laziness. My money is on the latter.
I used to get excited by these genre mash-ups, but between this and last summer's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," I've fallen out of love with the concept. Rather than excuses to have fun, they're simply excuses to be lazy. Create a movie title with a famously noble or innocent person attached to an absurd, violent supernatural job, and call it a day. Wit – or even just guilty pleasure fun – is optional.
The result is like eating candy with none of the flavor but all of the cavities.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.