Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Red Cloak of Shame

Ah, progress. Progress is the method by which we don't have to suffer the same things over and over again until the end of time. Progress means that what bores us can be replaced with something new and exciting. Progress means that we can ditch same-old, same-old for new, fresh, product. Movie monsters are no different; Frankenstein wore out his welcome decades ago, mummies died out sometime around the turn of the century, and the Swamp Thing never was as popular as some would have you believe. These days vampires are the cream of the crop, what with their outstanding popularity through widely differing sources including RPG games like White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, television shows like The Vampire Diaries, and the books and movies of the Twilight series. As a result, blood-sucking leeches have never been more popular, nor nearly as sexually attractive. That can't last forever, of course, and studios are hard at work trying to figure out which mysterious creatures will climb the box office charts next. Trying to perhaps spin off some of the popularity of Twilight's character Jacob Black, werewolves seem to be Hollywood's new pet project. The going has been rough, however, especially the abject failure of last year's remake of The Wolfman, which starred Benicio del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Werewolves might not be ready to usurp Dracula's crown, as the newest attempt is the retelling of the popular folk tale Little Red Riding Hood. Called simply Red Riding Hood, the film was directed by Catherine Hardwicke (who also directed Twilight) and obviously re-geared to appeal to the same teen audience that enjoy the vampire films with such gusto.

"Got any Lycanthopic-brand condoms?"
In an unnamed village in the middle of nowhere, villagers have kept an uneasy truce with a local werewolf, leaving sacrifices - often small animals - to protect the people. It's the only life Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) has known. The daughter of a woodcutter (Billy Burke) and his wife (Virginia Madsen), Seyfried has lived in this place in relative peace, though the fear is always there. When her family arranges a marriage to have her married to Henry Lazar (Max Irons), scion of one of the richer families around, she conspires to run away with her secret love Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but is halted when the werewolf attacks and kills her sister. It is the first time a human has been attacked by the wolf in recent memory. This results in the town's priest (Lukas Haas) summoning legendary werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to hunt and kill the beast. Solomon brings news that is hard for many to admit and causes consternation in the remote place: the werewolf is in fact not some beast confined to the wilds but in fact one of them.

Sure, it's a deep, dark cave. What's the worst that could happen?
If any of you nodded off after a sentence or two of the previous paragraph, then this film isn't for you. Meant to appeal primarily to teen girls, it's hardly surprising that you wouldn't want to see this particular film. For the rest of you... Red Riding Hood isn't for you either. Unless you're a true masochist, there's very little positive to draw from what amounts to little more than gummed-up drivel. It's geared towards teens but the idea that anyone could believe the foolish, cliched, and preposterous story is time well spent seems like a big, cruel joke. I admit I've never seen one of Hardwicke's films before now but seeing this doesn't exactly make me want to rush out and rent Thirteen or Lords of Dogtown. Her early career as a production designer does come off well here,  as the film uses colors to great effect (especially Valerie's red cloak against white, snowy backgrounds), but her direction style suffers at the hands of her pandering ways. The further you attempt to trudge through the mess that is the plot, the more you simply want all the suffering to stop as there's less and less to give any sense that the film hasn't run away without the director in full control.

One of many confused looks
If there's one bright spot that shines through the film's procession, it's Seyfried, who may be stuck in a limited role but does it well enough to be head and shoulders over the rest of her cast. Seyfried's part might be nowhere close to authentic (what kind of name is Valerie in mythological dark ages? It sounds like a Valley Girl moniker) but at least they cast the right woman for the part. Oldman I hoped would be hammy and entertaining as he was in last year's Book of Eli, but here his particular cut of pork is rump roast as the film's most vocal antagonist. Burke, like his role in Drive Crazy, doesn't quite do enough to justify his casting. Madsen, who has done little since being nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the overrated Sideways, shows either rust or exactly why that hiatus from major films was necessary. Same with Haas, who never has been a standout talent. Julie Christie is downright disappointing as dear old Grandmother, who doesn't have a lot to do besides be another suspect in the mystery of who the wolf might be. But most disappointing are the duo of would-be love interests paired off with Valerie. Max Irons tries to be the rich but sensitive soul, but comes off as bland and unworthy from the start for Valerie's love. He's slightly overshadowed by Shiloh Fernandez, but not by much. Playing the brooding outsider, Fernandez is the one that the few fans of this film will be cheering for, but he takes sullen to another level, completely uninteresting to the rest of us. Hardwicke stated that she cast for chemistry; she sure as hell didn't cast for talent. While it WAS nice to see refugees from famous sci-fi shows as Stargate's Michael Shanks and Battlestar Galactica's Michael Hogan and Jen Halley in small parts, they didn't manage to drag my opinion of the film from the deeper pits.

I'm surprised they kept the cloak red at all
Most insulting is the film's one-note romantic tale. Even with the danger of the wolf all around, the biggest problem would seem to be Valerie's decision between her two lovers. The film couldn't pass a Bechdel Test if it tried (Thanks to The Opinioness for introducing that term to me) and should come off as insulting to any intelligent X-chromosome-wielding individual. Seriously, all the women in this film can seem to talk about are the men. Even when talking about the damn WEREWOLF the conversation turns to men! That any rational, free-thinking person might be suckered into thinking this is high art is a frightening prospect indeed. It's sad how closely the film tried to capture the Edward/Jacob rivalry and make it work in this case, a desperate attempt to drag in that Twilight crowd.

Okay, am I the only one seeing a tampon commercial?
In the end, what remains of folk tale Little Red Riding Hood is merely a large portion of the title, a red cloak and a talking wolf. The film really owes nothing to the source material, using it instead as a means to an end, something familiar to drive people into the theaters. There's just not a lot more to say here. Barring mild brain damage, there is no good reason for you to waste your money on this film. Being the eleventh 2011 film I've seen, Red Riding Hood is the first to completely miss the Top 10 list. Even Drive Angry had campy moments that were fun to witness, but this film is lacking in even that brief humor or excitement. Bad direction, bad cast, bad story, this film indeed has it all. It might even hold out and become this year's worst film, though of course that's too soon to tell. The attempts to reign in the crowds seems to have failed miserably as well, with people seemingly not wanting werewolf films at this time. Perhaps someday that will change, and lycanthropes will occupy the same status currently held by vampires. Perhaps that will NEVER happen, and werewolves will be pushed aside to make room for some newer monster. Loch Ness, perhaps? Progress means things are constantly changing, but there's often no telling what will make us smile until we come across that line. Someday, vamps won't be the talk of Tinseltown. Until then, Edward Cullen - not Lawrence Talbot - reigns.

1 comment:

Sam said...

"little more than gummed-up drivel"