Okay, let's call it like it is and have done with it--RED RIDING HOOD is a shameless grab for the TWILIGHT audience (minus the vampires). We've got director Catherine Hardwicke, we've got TWILIGHT dad Billy Burke as the father, most of the movie is about a young love that isn't meant to be... okay, the storyline isn't exactly the same, and it DOES derive fairly from the original "Little Red Riding Hood" (with a nice nod to the Three Little Pigs while we're at it), but if TWILIGHT hadn't existed, neither would this movie.
Still--I'm not going to see the next TWILIGHT movies (I've previously explained exactly why I'm not), Hardwicke DOES have a gift for troubled youth movies, AND I had a free ticket (thanks to my DRIVE ANGRY 3-D fiasco). So what the hell.
Young Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) loves one young man but is pledged to another in a medieval village. Said village has been routinely sacrificing livestock in order to placate the "big bad wolf" that's been terrorizing them for decades. But things heat up when the wolf breaks the pact and kills Valerie's sister. And things get worse when the villagers decide to hunt down the wolf. Think this might complicate the love triangle even further?
Well, it's a good thing that Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) has arrived to set things straight... on the one hand, he really DOES have first-hand experience with werewolves and really DOES know what he's talking about... on the other hand, he's about as helpful as Herbert Lom in MARK OF THE DEVIL (oh, I should mention that I really liked his torture chamber forged in the shape of an elephant). Meantime, Valerie discovers that she has a psychic link with the werewolf--but if anybody ELSE figures this out, she'll be tried as a witch. And pretty much every character has a go at being the prime suspect.
RED RIDING HOOD looks very nice indeed, and you had to know going in that there wasn't going to be gore and violence past the PG-13 level. Still, there IS a very nice running gag involving severed hands (prime bait for a certain Remo D.). Suspense is never really an issue (and I must confess that I nearly nodded off several times during the second half), but at least the mystery element plays fair with the audience.
Ultimately, the saving grace of RED RIDING HOOD can be found in the casting. The young leads are perfectly acceptable, but you'll find someone you like no matter which generation you represent--it was great to see Virginia Madsen as Valerie's mother and especially terrific to see Julie Christie as her grandmother (and yes, they play with the "What big eyes you have" routine). And when you cut Gary Oldman loose? No shortage of prime ham for the werewolf, but he's still the most consistently entertaining thing in the film.
Oh, the wolf itself? Sorry--typical snarly CGI creation. Nothing you haven't seen before.
I'll happily move RED RIDING HOOD to a higher shelf than SEASON OF THE WITCH, but I far preferred THE WOLFMAN (and yes, I mean the Benicio Del Toro one).
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