Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

Well, THAT was a silly movie. And I say that…as only a PARTIALLY bad thing. When this flick FINALLY got released (it had been ‘shelved’ for a while and not screened for critics…not really a good sign), I really didn’t give it TOO much thought, as the trailers reminded me FAR too much of the atrocious ‘Van Helsiing’ (2004), all cheezy CG and out-of-place dialogue. Now that I’ve witnessed this questionable horror/comedy flick, were my fears unfounded? Not entirely. There is definitely material on display here that approaches ‘Van Helsing’ levels of stupidity, but luckily director Tommy Wirkola (‘Dead Snow’…to be reviewed soon) had the good sense to rein it in when it was speeding toward The Land of Stupid. The end result is a ‘comic book’ movie’ more akin to another recent cinematic ‘take’ on classic characters, ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ (Oh hell, just look at the titles!), a flick that I still maintain is FAR more fun than it has any right to be.
When the momentum bursts forward in this one, it’s a fun, fast and ‘gory as hell’ time at The Movies. It’s when characters slow down and engage in overly-modern dialogue (the North American accents don’t help), that the eye-rolling begins. As many people know, the story follows classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters, Hansel and Gretel (obviously) as they emerge from their near lethal time in the gingerbread house (after oven-cooking the surprisingly vicious witch to death) to embark on a quest to eradicate all witches from their world…for a price. They come to the aid of a small village, whose child population has been poached by a hidden coven of witches intent on bringing about some immortality-giving prophecy, and find themselves more involved in the witches scheme than they expected. As the wise-cracking, cussing siblings, Jeremy Renner (The Avengers) and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) do what they can with the admittedly thin material, with Arterton emerging as the more ‘present’ and comfortable of the duo…it does help that her ass looks rather incredible in REALLY tight leather (just saying). Renners portrayal of the amusingly diabetic brother (he was afflicted from the witch-inspired forced feeding of candy as a kid) carries a slight awkwardness, as though you can almost sense embarrassment just below the surface of his line deliveries. Or perhaps he too was always mentally questioning the use of modern-day slang and swearing. The words “Shit” and “Fuck” crop up a surprising number of times, and I found it a little tacky. I’ve never been a huge fan of taking ‘period piece’ filmmaking (I KNOW that it’s a ‘fantasy’ but still) and infusing its dialogue with The Words of The NOW. It always removes me from the world the they are trying to convey, even just for a second…and sometimes a second is all that’s needed to start shifting an opinion toward the decidedly negative. At least here, they do follow it up with some inventingly messy bursts of comic-book violence.
Many a witch and victim alike gorily succumb to beheadings, stabbings, burnings, multiple gun shot wounds, explosives, squashings, and a slew of crazy deaths from silly tools in the siblings streampunk-wannabe arsenal (Gatling gun? Really?). I have to admit that some of the live-action stunt work looked downright painful. This…is a good thing. On the receiving end of a good chunk of the action is Jean Grey herself Famke Janssen, as the evil Grand Witch. Despite the fact that she has since admitted to taking the role to pay off her mortgage, she does seem to have fun playing the pale, evil bitch. The ever-awesome Peter Stormare (Fargo) is robbed as his antagonistic Sheriff character’s head is hilariously mashed into pudding FAR too soon into the run time. There was really no reason at all for him to have taken this strangely bland role…unless he too had pressing bills to pay. ANYONE could have played that character, but I guess that a Geek Icon like Stormare, regardless of the capacity, may help ‘up’ whatever ‘cred’ the ailing flick may have been hemorrhaging, as a production.
For a ‘throw away’ movie, it’s an ok little time waster, with a very simple story (that seems to lacking another layer of…something) and some inventive, tongue-in-cheek action and violence. You could do worse…but you could also do a LOT better. Take it…or leave it.

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