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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 04:22 pm

Hansel & Gretel a bloody mess

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The pedigree behind Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is an odd one and speaks to the disjointed nature of the movie. Produced by Will Ferrell’s company, one wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that this update on the tale of the brother and sister, who escaped the clutches of a witch by burning her up in an oven, would be a straight comedy. To be sure, the film does contain its fair share of laughs, but coupled with the director’s style, which seems anchored by the notion that there’s never, ever enough blood and gore in any scene, the movie winds up being a schizophrenic affair.

As written by Wirkola and Dante Harper, the film revolves around a rather clever conceit. Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton) have succeeded in building a career based on their traumatic childhood experience. They’ve achieved a certain degree of fame by hiring out to villages to address their respective witch problems. Utilizing an arsenal of rapid-fire crossbows and automatic firearms that have seemingly been smuggled back through time, they’ve cut a bloody path through Europe, becoming a bit jaded along the way. Their current job revolves around a series of child abductions they’re hired to investigate, something the local sheriff (Peter Stormare) seems reluctant to do himself.

There are no surprises, unless you count the troll. This is a straightforward exercise of pursuit and deduction with the siblings figuring out that the lost children are being prepared for a rite to be preformed on the night of the blood moon. Seems that all the witches in attendance will be rendered fireproof, something the head of the coven, Muriel (Famke Janssen) is quite keen on. I’m surprised they never refer to this as the “Asbestos Spell,” as other stabs at humor are attempted along the way. Hansel is a diabetic. He’s been hooked on sugar since his first encounter with the witch’s house made of candy, while woodcut portraits of the missing children attached to bottles of milk can’t help but garner a chuckle. And don’t get me started on the odd variety of witches seen during the film’s climax. The Siamese twins who can kill you with their ninja moves have to be seen to be believed.

Yeah, this movie is like dog poop on your shoe – it’s all over the place and doesn’t do anyone much good. Renner and Arterton are good sports throughout, playing things straight in the service of what they must have known was a dog, while Janssen is perfectly cast, bringing the right combination of menace and sexiness to the role. That the actress admitted in a recent interview that the only reason she took the part was to pay for a new kitchen makes me like her all the more. And while I hope this film dies a quick death, I don’t think that will be the case. The folks at “Mystery Science Theater” are always on the lookout for fresh material and this is the sort of movie tailor-made for their special brand of dissection.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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