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HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS – The Review

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And here’s one more entry in the updated, more adult-oriented fairy tale sweepstakes from Hollywood. There was the disastrous RED RIDING HOOD with Amanda Seyfried from two years ago (trying to grab the Twilight fans) and last year two, count-em’ two, live action Snow Whites! The campy MIRROR, MIRROR with Julia Roberts as the wicked stepmother was a huge dud while SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN with Kristen Stewart as the titular sword-wielding heroine was a surprise smash (and was gossip fodder for months). There’s still more to come with Angelina Jolie’s turn as Sleeping Beauty’s evil sorceress MALIFICENT due next year. But out at the multiplex right now is a twisted take on another Grimm Brothers classic HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. Like HUNTSMAN this version takes aim at the fantasy action crowd (since the first Hobbit’s been out for several weeks now). Will this new big-screen dynamic duo provide a happily ever after for film goers (and theatre owners)?

This version opens with a pre-opening title retelling of the classic tale with a few twists. Pappa hustles the pre teen lad and lass into the forest (seems some sort of evil is bearing down on their home). When Dad doesn’t return for them the siblings wander about and come across that candy cottage where the well-known story is then played out: the witch, the cage, and the massive oven. From there the titles commence and we see several woodcut newspaper-like stories chronicling the duo’s exploits over the next few years (the parents are history). We soon arrive at a remote village in turmoil. The children are being snatched up and witches are suspected. The beleaguered mayor hires the now adult Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) to find the tots, much to the chagrin of the sheriff (Peter Stormare). The two outsiders soon discover a plot hatched by a powerful witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen) to use the kids in a ritual during the upcoming Blood Moon that will make her kind invincible. The two hunters race against the clock while battling an army of spell-castersiun order to save humanity.

The actors are not tested by the slight material, but do build on their already solid action film personas particularly Renner as the no-nonsense wiseacre Hansel, although not as memorable as his recent roles in THE BOURNE LEGACY or MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS (as another weapons master Hawkeye). He’s believable charging after a witch or tossing off insults at dull-witted townspeople. He even gets a love interest with village girl Mina (Pihla Vitala), of course after preventing  her from being burned as a witch (I kept wishing John Cleese would pop up out of the mob and accuse her of turning him into a newt…ah, a much better flick!). Arterton has a bit less to do, but looks smashing in her matching black leather pants suit (mmm, okay) as she gets just as much abuse from the baddies (and the locals) as her brother. Speaking of locals, Stormare (so great in FARGO) is wasted in the thankless role of the buffoonish, bullying lawman who suffers endless indignities from the duo. But at least the twosome have a fan (or in more modern terms “fanboy”) in Ben (PROJECT X’s Thomas Mann) who totes around a scrapbook and lusts after the luscious Gretel. Also looking lovely is Janssen as the witch queen who brings the required menace to the role as she did in GOLDENEYE and Jean Grey AKA Dark Phoenix in X MEN: THE LAST STAND. It’s a shame that her face is covered in a nasty dried-oatmeal like make-up for most of her screen time.

While many may find this a similar fairy tale take like THE HUNTSMAN, it may instead be closer to the misfires VAN HELSING and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN with its old timey “steampunk” takes on modern weaponry (which may harken bark to the TV and film versions of THE WILD,WILD WEST). There are lots of cool looking toys that dispatch the meanies. Oh, and there’s even a troll henchman, who’s not a CGI effect but a makeup/suit/puppetry creation (much like Mr. Hyde in GENTLEMEN). What somewhat surprised me was the amount of comedy in the flick (no wonder Will Ferrells’s a producer). This may account for the frequent modern style profanity and slang (Ben refers to the duo as “you guys” often). The look of the film (costumes, sets) is very good (wish it were lit a bit brighter) and the stunt work is superb, along with the pyrotechnics. It’s a shame there’s not more to the script besides the simple formula of wisecracks, fight, banter, chase, explosion, and repeat (almost a video game lurching from level to level). In all it’s an intermittently interesting take on the old bedtime story, but you’ll be hard-pressed to recall much of it soon after leaving the multiplex. It’s mindless, action fantasy-fluff that may be a painless rental on a rainy afternoon. Close the big decorated storybook on these grown-up candy cottage munchers.

3 Out of 5 Stars

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Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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