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Story lacking in not-so-scary fairy tale

POSTED: March 10, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Warner Bros. Pictures

Amanda Seyfried, left, and Shiloh Fernandez star in "Red Riding Hood." The movie capitalizes on the "Twilight" franchise's good-girl-loves-bad-boy storyline.

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In the latest attempt to cash in on the girls-who-love-monsters phenomenon, director Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight," "Thirteen") turns "Red Riding Hood" — the fairy tale of a girl stalked by a wolf on the way to grandma’s — into a romantic horror movie that fails on every level.

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) loves lowly woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her family has arranged for her to marry blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). Apparently blacksmiths earn much more than lumberjacks, so Henry represents the "good marriage" and Peter is the bad boy. Nevermind that otherwise there seem to be no class differences in the movie.

But Valerie has bigger problems.

For two generations, a werewolf has tormented her small medieval village. The villagers sacrifice livestock to the werewolf, who has obliged by staying away for many years. Suddenly, though, the wolf kills Valerie’s sister, sending everyone into hysterics.

The men hunt the wolf, Valerie’s father (Billie Burke) drinks, Valerie’s mother (Virginia Madsen) barely seems to notice, Peter and Henry brood, and Valerie takes food to her Grandmother (Julie Christie).

Then a werewolf-hunting priest named Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) inexplicably arrives and becomes more of a menace than the wolf.

The movie tries to create a witch-hunt paranoia akin to "The Crucible," in which everyone is suspected of being the wolf.

This all potboils down, of course, to the lover’s triangle surrounding Valerie, and we end up rolling our eyes through a Bella-Edward-Jacob rehash. Who is the monster? Which handsome, vacuous boy will Valerie choose?

The entire movie is nonsensical and ineffective.

The villagers keep referring to "the pact" with the wolf, but how was that pact created when Valerie is the only person to whom the wolf can speak?

Father Solomon, traveling by horse-drawn carriage and toting an absurd giant elephant on wheels, arrives at the isolated mountain village less than two days after the werewolf attack. Did someone hit him up on the cell or something?

On and on the bad storytelling goes.

There is almost nothing to praise about this movie.

It was shot on set with very theatrical wardrobe, so the whole movie looks artificial, which undermines any sense of danger the movie might have created. That’s a lethal mistake for a movie trying to make a fairy tale scary.

The dialogue, unlike the costumes, is worthy of no stage. It’s so cliché and predictable you’ll be able to mouth the words with the actors on first viewing.

I suppose the actors deserve some grace for working with such awful material, but the performances don’t help.

Christie does as well as possible with her relatively subdued role, but Oldman takes a ridiculous character and pushes it way over the top. It’s not Oldman’s first questionable choice (remember "The Unborn"?), but I’m baffled he took the role in the first place.

Seyfried, meanwhile, needs a hit movie in the very near future. "Dear John" did good business for a romantic drama, but that’s her only lead role that hasn’t flopped ("Jennifer’s Body," "Letters to Juliet").

But let’s make sure we give blame where it’s due, to David Johnson, the screenwriter. Johnson’s first feature was "Orphan," and readers might remember the special hatred I have for that movie. While "Orphan" was offensive and exploitive, "Red Riding Hood" is incompetent.

I’m not afraid of the big bad wolf, but I am afraid we’re going to endure many more movies like this. "Twilight" proved a franchise could re-formulate a horror movie scenario into something teen girls and their mothers would devour. Producers no doubt see this as a new market, and they’re going to exploit it.

Since we’re stuck with it, let’s hope someone discovers how to do it well.

The advanced marketing might earn "Red Riding Hood" a decent first week, and maybe the extremely unpredictable teen female audience will like it.

For everyone else, "Red Riding Hood" is perfect for your home version of Mystery Science Theatre.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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