Movie review – Bounty hunters Inc

2013-02-24 10:00

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This ‘sequel’ to Hansel and Gretel falls far short of bewitching, writes Gayle Edmunds

Icouldn’t quite shake the sensation that I had seen this story done better and funnier. The film that kept knocking on the back door of my mind was The Brothers Grimm, the rather fabulously ridiculous Terry Gilliam film about the German brothers who collected some of our best-loved – if bloodiest – fairy tales. Among them were Snow White and, of course, Hansel and Gretel.

In this “sequel”, for want of a better word, to the rather gruesome fairy tale, the siblings – Hansel and Gretel – have turned their triumph over the cannibalistic witch into a career.

They are witch-hunters, travelling the medieval badlands in fetching black leather, with mean weapons, saving children from evil. They arrive in a particularly witch-infested town, where they find a local lynch mob about to drown a witch. They save her as she doesn’t bear the marks of the witch who has made a pact with the devil – so explains gun-toting Hansel (Jeremy Renner).

So far, so good.

The trouble is that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn’t really do anything new with the material. The writer and director, Norwegian Tommy Wirkola, gets stuck into some serious action sequences with witches flying off on broom handles, and Renner and Gemma Arterton practising their roundhouse kicks and choke holds, interspersed with crossbow-shooting hitting bull’s-eyes. But it’s not a hell of a lot new in terms of action, so Wirkola needed to do more with the mythology to make his story stand out. Alas, he doesn’t.

He doesn’t interrogate the legend and iconography of the witch in any meaningful way. His sorting of good from evil witches is pedestrian, at best.

He also must have realised halfway through that Hansel and Gretel were a little too close, bringing an unwanted incest vibe, so he throws in a rather lame love story with a gratuitous sex-in-a-grotto-in-the-forest scene – very contrived, but the one respite from all the relentless witch-throwing and shooting.

The fairy tale is thought to have originated during the Great Famine in Europe (1315 to 1321), when hunger made people do crazy things – like abandoning their children in forests, presumably, and resorting to cannibalism. It would have been nice if Wirkola had spent less time making sure Arterton looked hot in her faux dominatrix get-up and more time exploring the way witches have borne the brunt of fear and loathing in society.

The archvillain here is Famke Janssen, a witch so powerful she can hide the ravages of badness that manifest in lesser witches after contact with the devil. She is awaiting a blood moon to make herself invincible – but it’s rather irritating to see no background on her character at all.

She’s introduced, Macbethesque, by mumbling and cackling over a cauldron in a dungeon with a pair of other witches. Never do we learn anything about her or her cohorts, except they want to become invincible (hardly an original motive at the movies).

In the end, Renner is wasted, a twice Oscar-nominated actor reduced to a role more suited to the limited talents of a Vin Diesel or Jason Statham. His dialogue is appalling, but I suppose he pulls off the medieval chic. Arterton too gets little chance to flex her range and is hired for much the same reason she got the job in Bond film Quantum of Solace: she looks good in figure-hugging clothes and can point a weapon with a pout.

Wirkola should have taken his cribbing of The Brothers Grimm further. He should have taken his good idea and turned it into a great one. There just isn’t enough new stuff here – consider how Red Riding Hood expanded and surprised, incorporating the werewolf myth; how Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart gave Snow White a contemporary twist; and how Heath Ledger and Matt Damon turned con artists into storytellers.

I’d give this Hollywood fairy tale a miss and wait for the next one – Jack the Giant Slayer. I hope that one lives up to its name.

Film: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (UIP)

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Featuring: Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen and Pihla Viitala

Rating: 5/10

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