Catherine Hardwicke tries to transfer her panting and pretty young things "Twilight" style to "Red Riding Hood," a werewolf-sans-vampire fantasy aimed at that magical PG-13 audience.
For all of the heaving bosoms, the big-eyed flirtation and the cool fairy-tale hair products, it doesn’t work.
Amanda Seyfried has the title role. She is Valerie, who wears the scarlet hood Grandma (Julie Christie) made for her, dodging in and out of the almost-enchanted forest around her village of Daggerhorn. For generations, a werewolf has taken livestock offered as a sacrifice by the frightened townsfolk. “We’ve kept the peace,” the locals say as they tie up another pig on another full moon.
Valerie’s sister is killed and all bets are off. The men, including two competing for Valerie’s affection, set out to kill the wolf. The weak-kneed local priest (Lukas Haas) sends for a specialist – Father Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon arrives with a team of medieval commandos, riding in an armored coach, followed by a hollow bronze elephant-shaped torture cooker. Hunting for a werewolf in the woods is a waste of time, Father Solomon intones. The wolf is in their ranks.
“There’s a big bad wolf, and someone has to stop it,” he tells his children to calm them. He’s not worried about calming the villagers: “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
Solomon preaches paranoia and Valerie looks into every face with growing suspicion if not terror. Terror would have been good, but Seyfried plays this Red Riding Hood as a somewhat fearless tomboy. Girlfriend keeps a knife in her knickers.
That’s handy because the wolf might be Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), her childhood beau. Or maybe it’s Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), the prosperous blacksmith’s son her mother (Virginia Madsen) wants her to marry. Then again, there’s the moment she tells her granny, “What big teeth you have.”
“Orphan” screenwriter David Leslie Johnson incorporates a few “big bad wolf” gags that fall utterly flat. The dialog is cut-and-paste “Promise me you’ll be careful” pabulum and the like. Hardwicke bathes her characters in the comfy backlit glow of a glamour photo, but none of the performances pop off the screen. Young Irons stands out as almost amateurish, never knowing quite how to convey what’s on the page onto his face. Even the reliably hammy Oldman seems lost without having better lines to say or scenes to play. And Red’s dad also is Bella’s dad from “Twilight” (Billy Burke). Try to pretend that’s not eyebrow-raising.
But Seyfried and Fernandez click as a couple and Hardwicke showcases them to good effect. The woodsy, realistic fantasy setting is striking, as is the resemblance between Madsen, Christie and Seyfried, who really could be from one beautiful blonde family. And the fights, though predictably structured and shot, pay off.
Remembering her earlier films “Thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown” and “The Nativity Story,” and hearing of how Hardwicke was shown the door from the super-lucrative “Twilight” film franchise she launched, makes one wish better things for one of the few successful female filmmakers in Hollywood.
But her “Red Riding Hood” is far more grim than “Grimm,” and not nearly as much fun as it should have been.
Red Riding Hood
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Virginia Madsen
Running time: 1:39
Rating: PG-13; violence, creature terror, sensuality