Red Riding Hood – A flick far from legendary


NEW YORK – ‘Twilight’ director Catherine Hardwicke brings something borrowed; something new but certainly nothing blue to her girl-centric retelling of the old fairytale ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’
The new film, ‘Red Riding Hood,’ is a weird hybrid that means to tap the adolescent yearnings of Stephanie Meyer fans, but which will more likely suffer the same sorry fate as Amanda Seyfried’s last supernatural schlocker, ‘Jennifer’s Body.’
Seyfried’s saucer-eyed Riding Hood does wear a scarlet cape, but she goes by the name of Valerie and she’s not so little as she used to be; old enough to be engaged to the village blacksmith, Henry (Max Irons), whom her mother considers a better catch than Valerie’s childhood sweetheart Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a mere woodcutter.
In a gambit that’s filched directly from Meyer, the rival suitors both have their good points and some less attractive qualities. Peter is the romantic type, ready to elope anywhere: to the sea, to the mountains, even to the city if Valerie so desires. But he’s also a big sulk, and too tempestuous to be entirely reliable.
Henry, on the other hand, is as loyal as a puppy dog, several inches taller than Peter, and not prone to rash bravery. Irons is also a marginally worse actor; he may not work with wood but he’s quite the plank. Either of these hunks could be the werewolf terrorizing the village – the beast has the hots for Valerie – though neither of them shows any sign of incipient vampirism. Hardwicke began her career as a production designer and the angular, thorny buildings are the most evocative aspect of a movie that more often suggests medieval times as Bill and Ted might have imagined them: Lukas Haas as the village priest, anyone? Virginia Madsen and Billy Burke (yes, Bella’s dad) as Valerie’s parents?
Even Julie Christie’s grandmother speaks with an American accent, while the village hairdresser must have been an ancestor of Vidal Sassoon. At least Christie can act, even if she’s hardly convincing as the little red herring Hardwicke asks her to play in a succession of heavy-handed scare tactics. The same goes for Gary Oldman, whose purple turn as the fearless werewolf hunter Solomon somehow rises above camp to evoke the witch-hunting hysteria of ‘The Crucible’ – if only Arthur Miller had thought to throw in a giant tin elephant on wheels as an Inquisitorial torture device.
With his entourage of black and Asian bodyguards and a heavily fortified carriage from which his young daughters only fleetingly emerge, Solomon is such an exotic fish Hardwicke doesn’t seem to know what to make of him. Even so, whenever he’s on screen Oldman single handedly resuscitates David Johnson’s half-baked script.
That’s no small feat. Not nearly suspenseful enough to pass as a horror film, ‘Red Riding Hood’ is an awkward supernatural whodunit weighed down by banal dialogue more suited to a teen soap and Hardwicke’s clumsy direction. When you find yourself comparing it unfavorably with ‘Jennifer’s Body’ and Shyamalan’s ‘The Village,’ well, it can’t be a good sign.