The relatively new trend of taking classic stories and mashing them up with horror elements, like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies or Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, is proving to be a lot of fun. I own a good number of these types of novels and the recent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter film was pretty awesome. Now we have Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in theaters so of course I had to check it out on opening night.
After killing a witch who wanted to eat them as children, Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) have grown up to be quite adept at killing anyone who uses dark magic upon society and are now bounty hunters. They are hired by the mayor of a small town to find a number of children that have been kidnapped by the elder witch Muriel (Famke Janssen).
It’s pure cheese, and that’s what I was expecting. Is it fun? In spurts, yes. There are plenty of cool weapons being used to take down multiple witches (the fold-out rifle was my favorite), fast paced action scenes, lots of goofy gore and neat-o special FX on display. And it’s always nice to see a film where the heroes get beat up just as much as the villains. There’s even a bitchin’ troll that was made practically and isn’t CGI. It’s a visual feast, that’s for sure. It’s everything else that is kind of underwhelming in my eyes.
The make-up used for all the evil witches looks especially awful. It’s like a child drew some scary pictures with crayons and a make-up artist used them for inspiration. The normally beautiful Famke Janssen gets the worst of them all. It’s an overly simplistic design that not only renders her unrecognizable but makes her look silly as well.
The performances, save two, are universally bad as well. Jeremy Renner not only looks like he would rather be anywhere else but on the set, but once in a while looks mildly pissed off that he landed the part. He does well in the action scenes though. Famke Janssen doesn’t fare much better. She is amazing in the first two X-Men films, but here she sleepwalks through her role of the main villain which is a variation on her Dark Phoenix character. She uses a bad English accent that comes and goes too often and isn’t scary or threatening at all. I read an interview she gave at a film festival where she stated that the only reason she took the part was due to the need to pay off her mortgage. It shows.
Gemma Arterton, from Quantum of Solace and Clash of the Titans, is the exact opposite of the actor playing her brother. She appears to be putting everything into her part and comes off as if she’s enjoying being an action heroine with every fiber of her being. Peter Stormare is turning into another Christopher Walken; his strange speech patterns elicit a giggle from me every time I see him in a movie. He doesn’t have a big part as the town’s sheriff, but he does all he can in the limited screen time he’s given.
The use of modern language is another aspect that got on my nerves. It’s not so bad hearing someone from the 18th century saying “shit” after firing their gun and missing their target, but when characters are screaming “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me”, “That’s awesome” or “We’re going to take that fucking bitch down” it annoyed me beyond belief. I wouldn’t mind it if it happened once for comedic effect, but it’s done repeatedly just to get a reaction from the audience. I’m sure that was producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s contribution to the film.
The script, written by director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow), is heavy on action and light on character. Sure we find out that due to Hansel being fed buckets of candy to fatten him up for a witch’s dinner as a child has left him severely diabetic (which has an excruciatingly shitty development during the finale) and that the heroes’ mother was a white witch who cast a protection spell upon them that left them immune to magic, we know very little about the main characters other than the fact that they are good at killing witches. The story leaps from one set piece to another with reckless abandon and introduces new characters so quickly that we barely get to know them either. His dialogue leaves a lot to be desired as well (“I hate to break this to you, but it isn’t gonna be an open casket”). He has a flair for visuals and not much else. If Wirkola couldn’t get a versatile Oscar nominated actor like Jeremy Renner to give a decent performance I doubt he has what it takes to make it in Hollywood. He doesn’t take the material far enough and that’s the film’s ultimate downfall.
Outside some cool action and violence there isn’t much to like about Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Sure it’s fun when it needs to be and even has a few moments of brilliance (the anti-flying trap), but it’s basically a big budget SyFy Channel schlock-a-thon that pulls a little too much from modern day culture for my taste. Even though there is plenty of action I was bored more than once due to not giving a crap about any of the characters. But when you get down to it this flick is typical of what you’d expect of the theatrical offerings released in January, when all the movies the studios didn’t have any confidence in releasing elsewhere get dumped. And what’s worse is when you pay for a movie that’s in 3D, but the only parts that show off the format are the opening and ending credits. Boo!
It’s not a horrible movie, just a bland and disappointing one. I was expecting more and got something strictly middle of the road. I’m sure I’ll have more fun watching the recent direct-to-video offering FDR: American Badass. Well, maybe not.
2.5 out of 5