Hansel & Gretel ✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
And you thought you had abandonment issues. As you’ll recall, Hansel and Gretel were repeatedly left in the woods by their father, doing the bidding of a nasty stepmother. Finally good and lost, the siblings happened upon a candy cottage ‒ the perfect refuge for sugar junkies.
For the rest of the story, a 20-years later addendum, you’ll need to check out “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” the latest in the revisionist Grimm series that thus far has included CG-heavy spins on Snow White and Red Riding Hood. To guarantee padded weekend returns, Paramount is offering the fantasy in a choice of IMAX, 3D and standard digital. I opted for 3D, the only way to go. Minus the broomsticks and gnarled branches constantly jabbing you in the eye, there wouldn’t be much to keep you awake in this formulaic, albeit action-packed, return to the forbidden forest.
There’s certainly not much in way of narrative here ‒ do we really care that Hansel suffers from periodic sugar crashes? ‒ but I have to say the verdant German locations, gingerbread sets and conflicted troll named Edward almost held my attention.
A word to the wise: This is one children’s fantasy not meant for children. It’s rated R for a reason, and it has a good deal to do with coarse language and more flying viscera than the average splatter-film. Characters are smooshed, drawn-and-quartered, eviscerated. The climactic witches convention turns into a “Wild Bunch” slaughter.
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteton play Hansel and Gretel, now legendary bounty hunters known far and wide for their exploits. Like characters out of a spaghetti Western, they sport leather outfits and pack the latest in rapid-fire crossbows and blunderbusses. All the better to do battle with grand witch Muriel (Famke Jenssen), who with her minions plans a blood-moon Walpurgis Night. Main ingredients for the invincibility spell? Twelve children and the heart a Great White Witch (Gretel will do).
Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola, who marshaled Nazi zombies in the cult number “Dead Snow,” seems to have been aiming for something campy and irreverent. A melding of Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” and Roald Dahl’s “Witches” perhaps? He misses badly, thanks to the leaden, cliché-riddled script, heavy on such nuggets as “The only good witch is a dead witch” and “You move, you die!” The aerial acrobatics could have been lifted from Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The sole redeeming element? That ol’ granite-faced softy, Edward the Troll. Think Ron Perlman on massive steroids and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ✮✮ With Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arteton, Famke Jenssen, Peter Stormare, Derek Mears, Pihla Viitala. Directed Tommy Wirkola; scripted by Wirkola, Dante Harper. 88 min. Rated R (for nonstop violence, exploding heads)