Thursday, January 31, 2013


I’m sure you remember the story of Hansel and Gretel, two little kids, brother and sister, who get lost in the woods and find their way to a cabin made of candy. Inside sits a witch, ready to fatten them up and cook them for dinner. They manage to burn her in her own oven and escape. And that’s that. It’s a nice story, isn’t it? What Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters supposes is that this childhood encounter left the kids with a talent for slaying sorceresses, a talent they take on the road, roaming the countryside from village to village, peddling their ability to liberate towns from the terror of witchcraft in their midst. We pick up with them as adults, walking into a village that has been hit by a string of kidnappings, youngsters spirited away by shadowy magic into the blackest part of the forest never to be heard from again. Hansel and Gretel take the case, promising to slay the witch(es) involved and return the kids to their parents.

Writer-director Tommy Wirkola (of the lame Nazi zombie half-comedy Dead Snow) came up with an inventive twist on a Grimm tale and then stopped there, wanly elaborating upon a simple story until it becomes yet another dour, emotionless action movie. It charmed me at first, in its opening minutes at least, but all too quickly became plodding and predictable, running through its repetitive motions. The violence is splashily over-the-top, giving the characters rapid-fire crossbows, heavy firearms and the standard hyper-competence in murkily choreographed, supposedly improvisatory hand-to-hand combat. Witches are slashed apart in gruesome ways and return the favor by casting spells that cause men to eat bugs and explode or get stepped upon by a troll, which sends what looks like grape jelly splattering under the beast’s boot. And not a bit of it is exciting or involving in the slightest.  

The plot proceeds dumbly and dutifully through one of the simplest, most emotionally and creatively uncomplicated possible versions of this concept. As the adult Hansel and Gretel, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, who are generally appealing actors even in dry material, appear to be going through the motions dispirited and listless. They are without chemistry of any kind, between each other or anyone else in the cast and the movie calls upon them to do very little with what amounts to nothing more than cardboard action stereotypes dressed up in fairy tale drag. Little creative touches – Hansel suffers from diabetes as a result of eating too much of that witch’s house way back when – seem dropped in out of nowhere and come to mean very little in the scheme of things.

Filling out the rest of the cast is a nice group of supporting actors, from Famke Janssen as the Big Bad Witch to Peter Stormare as a skeptical sheriff and Thomas Mann as a village teen with an exceedingly understandable crush on Gretel. Their contributions are nonstarters as well, ground under by the empty spectacle. It’s a goofy movie that refuses to overtly comment upon its own goofiness while at the same time carefully avoiding taking itself seriously. It’s an odd, uncommitted stance for such potentially enjoyable trash to take. As is, it plays like someone went into the editing room and scrupulously snipped out every bit of humor and excitement, leaving only an 88-minute husk of a good idea, a one-joke movie that never even finds the energy to tell it with any skill.

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