Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA rated: R for strong violence, gore, brief sexuality and nudity, and language
Length: 88 min.

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala, Famke Janssen, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Screenplay: Tommy Wirkola
Review published February 17, 2013

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 2013Seeing a film title and trailer like the one for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, I'm reminded of the spoof trailers we saw in Tropic Thunder, which were satires on the wrongheaded Hollywood mish-mash of ideas that took traditional stories and amped them up to seem edgy and controversial to get people in the theaters.  The experience of watching this film is like having to see one of these kinds of movies play out in full length, except that we already got the laugh of the premise of seeing Hansel (Renner, The Avengers) and Gretel (Arterton, Prince of Persia) from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale story grow up to be kick-ass witch killers by trade.  So, what does the movie offer in terms of humor and thrills you can't get from the promotional material?  Not much.

Silliness is what we get for the duration, with a script that feels like it is still in rough draft mode -- redundant and formulaic conflicts, few actual developments.  Writer-director Wirkola (Dead Snow, Kill Buljo) throws plenty of standard action-movie eye-candy visuals at the audience, from slow-mo, bullet-time fighting, to full-on, lop-your-head-off gore.  This may make for a semi-decent experience for those viewers who've chosen to watch the film in its theatrically released 3D run, but for those who waited for home video, you'll be amazed at the paltry goods offered.

The entire movie plays out like a video game, whereby the well-armed siblings travel to various locations to take down the nasty witches that reside there, each progressive witch uglier and nastier than the last.  The only exception is Mina (Viitala, Tears of April), a woman that Hansel and Gretel save from being wrongly killed by an angry mob for fear that she may be a witch, and who later develops a bit of a romance with Hansel that is neither romantic nor sincere.  When you later see Mina in mortal danger, you will realize all too well how little the characters are actually fleshed out, as we would care nothing if we see her demise.  And apparently, neither would Hansel, as it turns out, as he exudes the same irreverent attitude whether the woman he fancies is about to be slaughtered or not.

The humor rides a wave of goofiness that is neither witty nor delivered with any knack for comedy.  For instance, that one of the sibs would develop diabetes due to the excessive consumption of the Gingerbread House is funny in theory, but feeble in execution.  On second thought, perhaps the affliction may be the reason why Hansel looks about 15 years older than Gretel, despite being about the same age when shown as kids.  Wirkola's script doesn't really have funny lines so much as has the actors mostly ad-lib their way through ridiculous scenes without having any inkling of weight as to the seriousness of their situations.  Though set in an obvious fantasy past, the dialogue is modern and as anachronistic as their high-power weaponry, including a fair share of F-bombs. 

If you like cheese for cheese's sake, this may sit better with you than it did with me, as I kept waiting in vain for something interesting -- anything -- within the final 80 minutes that I didn't already get from the first five.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo