New to DVD “Hanzel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” Review and Trailer

Hansel_Y_Gretel_Cazadores_De_Brujas_covertwo-stars1It’s been almost three years since Hollywood jumped aboard the fairytale-twisting gravy train following the success of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, and the results have been damn disastrous. The body count left in its wake so far includes 2011’s Red Riding Hood and the Snow White dastardly duo from a year ago: Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, the latter which – and let’s be realistic – had a strong box office not because of Kristen Stewart‘s rabbit-toothed tin-canned heroine but the presence of hunky Chris Hemsworth, red-hot at the time from being The Guy Who Played Thor in The Avengers, and who was also responsible for the pointless Red Dawn remake finally being dumped into theaters last November after three years of rotting in the can.

Next to step inside the ring is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which, ironically, sat on the shelf for a while (it was filmed in 2011) until star Jeremy Renner became a hot commodity as the new Bourne last year. This is easily the most watchable of the twisting-the-classics lot I’ve seen so far, or at least didn’t make me want to immediately stab my eyes with bamboo slivers. It’s strange, because not unlike its ill-fated predecessors, H&G gives you reasons aplenty to hate it, from its weak, simplistic tagline (“Old Classic, New Twist” – really, Sherlock?) to the very premise of this movie and its complete lack of originality, the blatant trying-to-sound-hip anachronisms, and baseball-bat-over-the-head foreshadowing.

And somehow it all succeeded in keeping my interest. I suppose a measure of congrats is in order.

As far as the acting goes, nobody so much as breaks a sweat because the performers are well aware they’re going to be upstaged by the blood & guts, CGI saturation, and the flimsy plot. In fact, the best honest-to-God performances in the film are in the prologue, with the youngsters and the candy-house witch (Monique Enderton), whose frantic nails-on-a-chalkboard repetition of “Eat!” to young Hansel will give you chills.

Peter Stormare appropriately hams it up in his limited screen time as Berringer, and the spry Janssen unleashes a manic energy as Muriel (not to mention undergoing an admirable makeup job) but she’s reduced to Talking Killer status by the time the finale rolls around. Everyone else just goes through the motions and registers as nothing more than an afterimage that fades away in a dark room. Last, we certainly could have done without a young groupie-cum-aspiring witch hunter named Ben (Thomas Mann), who asks for their autographs inside a bar while shoving a scrapbook full of the siblings’ news clippings (seriously) in their faces, all with a shit-eating grin plastered on his toothpaste-commercial face.

Lastly, Renner and Arterton are believable as the eponymous leads yet are sorely lacking in onscreen chemistry. Renner, to his benefit, gives Hansel a cynically dry humor and matching facial quirks. Arterton, on the other hand, is all stiff upper lip, as if attempting to imbue her Gretel with some kind of credibility that the role neither requires nor deserves. They capture their quarry by chasing her through a forest and snaring her up in a tree with wire, which wouldn’t be a problem if the director, Tommy Wirkola hadn’t elected to repeat this several times, but that’s what results from having to insert filler material to stretch the film to feature length (indeed, it tops off at a quick 88 minutes). The pair are remarkably poor marksmen unless they’re required to shoot someone important, and are also the type of megaplex heroes who repeatedly get their clocks cleaned with only a few token cuts and bruises to show for it, at one point even used as an excuse to get Renner out of his shirt. Worse, Wirkola has Hansel and Gretel both toss about a handful of F-bombs for no possible reason other than to sound hip to the younger crowd, whenever they’re not speaking anachronistic dialogue like “Whatever happens, stay cool,” or Gretel calling Berringer an “[expletive] hillbilly.”

As a result of his forced sugar overdose back in the candy house, Hansel is actually a diabetic who has to inject himself in his lower thigh with insulin, otherwise he wilts like a dying flower. Gee, will it play a part in the final Good-vs.-Evil showdown (which itself goes on way too long)? You make the call.

While Wirkola’s action scenes are repetitive and ordinary, I do have to give the devil his due for one thing: he at least knows how to shoot them and therefore gives the film some rare moments of excitement. Still, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters reeks of nothing more than a for-the-paycheck project deservedly mired in the late-January doldrums. And after starring in three pictures that pointlessly dragged established franchises onto the big screen – Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia,and now this, Arterton might want to consider sticking to original material, because right now she isn’t doing her CV any favors.

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