(Okay, maybe I should have given that title a little more thought. But anyway…)
You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of a film ruined by trying to be too many things to too many people than Red Riding Hood, which opens Friday and, by all rights, should close Saturday.
The most obvious audience Hood hopes to attract is fans of the Twilight film series, snagging the director of the first film, Catherine Hardwicke, and refashioning the Little Red Riding Hood folk tale into, in a remarkably half-assed way, a love triangle between three extraordinarily uninteresting characters. (If all three had been eaten by the wolf in the first act, we might have been onto something.)
What’s weird about Hood, which inexplicably counts Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its producers (stick to swimming in icy water, Leo), is that this romantic angle is not its main thrust. It doesn’t have a main thrust.
In fact, for a supposedly sexier take on a classic folk tale, it’s in desperate need of thrust in general.
It flits around the idea of being a more adult folk tale but never commits. It throws in a bit of (pretty bad) CGI werewolf attack action from time to time, but it’s nowhere near violent or bloody enough (it’s PG-13) to interest action or horror fans. It has moments of campy fun, specifically every second Gary Oldman appears as a sinister Cardinal Richelieu-type character, but other scenes are played ridiculously straight.
Perhaps the film’s biggest mistake — and that’s saying something — is structuring itself like a Scream film. The Big Bad Wolf is indeed a werewolf, and our sweet little Red (named Valerie, played by Amanda Seyfried) has to figure out which of her fellow villagers turns into a beast when the moon is full. Is it her forbidden love, the dull as dishwater Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who presumably equates to the hunter of the folk tale? Or is it the man she’s been arranged to marry, the somehow even duller Henry (Max Irons)? Or is it one the other remarkably dull villagers? And given how dull Valerie is, who the hell really cares?
On looks alone, Seyfried perhaps is perfectly cast as Red, considering Christina Ricci might be a bit too old for the role. Seyfried’s pristine, alabaster skin and enormous eyes give Red just the right look, but every time she opens her mouth you’re begging for that werewolf to take her out of our misery.
To be fair, no actor could be expected to excel given the cheesy dialogue and Hardwicke’s uninspired direction; solid veterans such as Virginia Madsen, Julie Christie and Lukas Haas struggle to make an impression, with Christie holding up the best. As Red’s father, Billy Burke seems more zoned out than James Franco at the Oscars, suggesting he’s only here for one more Twilight connection.
Only Oldman acquits himself well, simply because he treats the film as the campfest it should have been from the opening credits. He’s acting in an entirely different movie, a Sam Raimi romp like Army of Darkness or Drag Me to Hell, and Red Riding Hood loses its steam for good when Oldman’s character (way-too-late spoiler alert) meets his too-soon demise.
The film doesn’t even look that great in a technical sense: The exteriors look fake, all clearly shot on soundstages, and not fake in an intentional “this is a dreamy heightened reality because this is a folk tale” way. They look fake in a “we really suck at our jobs” way.
Red Riding Hood is pretending to be a darker, more adult take on the folk tale, but it’s hardly the first: Neil Jordan mined the territory in 1984 with the R-rated The Company of Wolves, focusing more on sexual metaphors and heavy werewolf action. It wasn’t great, but at least it knew what it wanted to be. Red Riding Hood tries to be a little bit of everything, but ultimately it succeeds only in being a tedious mess.