Red Riding Hood
My, what a big, boring movie you have: ‘Riding Hood’ another inept ‘Twilight’ clone
They stagger toward us, arms outstretched, skin ashen, hair immaculately gelled and mussed. They’re desperate to separate teenage girls from their allowances, but their souls are dead and their passion doth make one giggle. The zombie army of “Twilight’’ clones marches on with “Red Riding Hood,’’ a laughably inept series of adolescent poses trying to pass itself off as a movie.
Two weeks ago, it was Alex Pettyfer as a hunky, misunderstood alien prince in “I Am Number Four,’’ and last week he returned as a hunky, misunderstood teen ogre in “Beastly.’’ This week we’ve got werewolves, with Amanda Seyfried, doing her best to channel Bella, and the anonymously handsome Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons as hunky, misunderstood potential wolfboys. It’s like Team Edward and Team Jacob, except you can’t tell the difference and you don’t care. A fairy tale set in a chintzy, overlit Dark Ages — call it the Slightly Dim Ages — “Red Riding Hood’’ makes you miss the stark realism of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.’’
The surprise is that this strip-mall Renaissance Faire has been brought to the screen by Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the original, not-bad-at-all “Twilight’’ and who in movies like “Thirteen’’ and even “The Nativity Story’’ has shown she understands the wayward emotions that compel young women. Perhaps she’s trying to fire up her own franchise, to the point of bringing along Billy Burke, the heroine’s father in “Twilight,’’ as a good luck talisman. Maybe she should have hired Anna Kendrick instead.
“Red Riding Hood’’ takes place in a hamlet called Daggerhorn, where it’s always snowing cornstarch and no one’s ever cold. A ravenous beast has been stalking the land, and after the sister of young, virginal Valerie (Seyfried) is killed, the villagers call in Father Solomon, the local werewolf wrangler and witchfinder general. He is played by Gary Oldman with an accent that wanders from Transylvania to London and back, and he is the most enjoyable part of this movie. Overacting has its privileges, and Oldman knows exactly how to turn a turkey like this.
When he isn’t torturing the village idiot in a giant brass elephant, Solomon warns the villagers that the beast walks among them. Is it Valerie’s true love, the bad-boy woodcutter Peter (Fernandez)? Or perhaps it’s Henry (Irons), the good-guy blacksmith to whom she’s unhappily engaged. No one is above suspicion, including Valerie’s father (Burke), mother (Virginia Madsen), and grandmamma, the latter played by Julie Christie in a schmatta. The legendary star takes the only sane approach to her role by acting as if she’s in another movie entirely.
Much of the plot is given over to Valerie’s romantic indecisions; at times “Red Riding Hood’’ plays like a very medieval episode of “Gossip Girl,’’ complete with wild parties involving wenches, hautboys, and techno. Seyfried, who can give good performances (“Mamma Mia!’’) and painfully bland ones (“Letters to Juliet’’), errs on the drippy side here. My, what big eyes she has, and not nearly enough going on behind them.
There is, of course, a massive amount of subtext to be mined from the ancient folk tale, and everyone from the brothers Grimm to Bruno Bettelheim has had his way with it. “Little Red Riding Hood’’ flashes warning signals about adolescent sexuality and dangerous men, about straying off the path versus heading straight to grandma’s house. The film you’re looking for is probably 1984’s certifiably crazy “The Company of Wolves,’’ with its Freudian psychology, icky transformation scenes, and Angela Lansbury as a malevolent granny warning Little Red to “never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.’’
Would that “Red Riding Hood’’ were even half that much fun. With the exception of one almost-roll in the hay and Oldman bellowing at Seyfried to “put on your harlot’s robe,’’ the movie plays it dully safe, hinting that Valerie has her wanton side but never following through. No maidenheads were harmed in the making of this movie, which is doubtless how the target audience and their parents prefer it. For all the smolder, movies in the “Twilight’’ genre keep their beasts chained safely in the basement. This one ends happily ever after for everyone but us.