Red Riding Hood

“Twilight” overdose! Catherine Hardwicke’s blatantly “Twilight”-esque revamping of the “Red Riding Hood” fable succeeds only as a nonsensical and often-as-not offensive grab for more teen dollars.

You may find yourself, after seeing this film, down on your knees praying for the current cycle of youth pop culture, which has been dominated for three years by the “Twilight” films, to come to a gentle end as soon as possible. And you may similarly find yourself midway through “Red Riding Hood” praying for this film to hasten to its own finish.

Then again, you may even feel that way from the film’s opening minutes, in which we are introduced to the unappealing CGI village of Daggerhorn, deep in a CGI forest in some CGI medieval country. Daggerhorn has been terrorized for two generations by a not-too-scary CGI wolf, to whom the villagers make regular animal sacrifices in hopes of convincing the beast not to eat any more of them.

Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the prettiest village teen, spends her days and nights fretting over her impending arranged marriage to rich, hot, and oh-so-dull Henry (Max Irons), as she tends to be much more interested in poor, hot, and also-kind-of-dull Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Yes, this is going to be yet another teen romantic triangle—but with none of the sexy chemistry among the young actors that has made the “Twilight” films the standard that so many filmmakers are now unsuccessfully trying to emulate.

Seyfried does the big eyes thing in almost every scene: whether she is supposed to be emoting passion, confusion, or fear, she keeps hitting us with those big eyes. And since she is in almost every scene in the film, those big eyes and her one-note performance—which includes dreary, incoherent voiceover narration to move things along—get old fast.

Irons and Fernandez are meanwhile entirely lacking in charisma themselves. In fact, with their stiff, muffled line readings, they make the “Twilight” guys look like young Marlon Brandos by comparison.

The result is a love story that is supposed to be engrossing and suspenseful—maybe even a little naughty here and there—that, in fact, quickly becomes tedious and enervating. While it seems that we are supposed to be rooting for Peter over Henry as Valerie’s final choice of hunk, we actually wind up hoping that all three kids will jump on horses and ride off in search of a different movie with better direction and a better script.

The young actors are joined by some seasoned pros who look utterly lost in this CGI wonderland: Virginia Madsen as Valerie’s troubled mother, Julie Christie as Valerie’s spooky grandmother, and Gary Oldman in a most unfortunate role, which he cannot control himself from overplaying, as Father Solomon, a tyrannical wolf hunter who shows up to save the day. For some reason, Hardwicke feels compelled to give all this great talent nothing much to do but roll their eyes, gnash their teeth, and act silly.

The potential fun here would be how “Red Riding Hood” could tweak the classic fairytale and come up with something new or at least halfway new. Hardwicke and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson decide to combine their teen romance with a werewolf tale, which sounds on paper like it could be clever but becomes insufferable with a script that hardly makes any sense and never fails to deliver groan-inducing lines.

So the big bad wolf is a werewolf, one of the villagers—but which one could he be? Valerie is upset when her sister is killed by the monster, who on a subsequent village raid corners Valerie, calls her by her name, and orders her, in an appropriately deep, wolfy voice that only she can understand, to run away with him.

So he must be somebody Valerie knows—maybe one of her two suitors? Or what if he is a she—her mother or her grandmother or one of her “mean girls” friends? If she opens her eyes even wider, as wide as a girl possibly can, maybe she can tell who it is just by staring into everyone’s eyes for as long as they can take it.

This film starts out on wobbly legs, but it really starts stumbling upon the arrival of Father Solomon. The werewolf slayer marches into town with much pomp and circumstance, accompanied by two black henchmen and a giant iron elephant in which, we are soon to discover, villagers under suspicion are to be cooked alive. With Solomon’s black lieutenants, who speak in broken English and tower menacingly over the little white girls of Daggerhorn, this “Red Riding Hood” really starts to embarrass itself. To this antiquated racist subtext, Hardwicke soon adds disturbing sexual undertones of incest and misogyny—yes, involving teenage girls.

This is exploitative filmmaking that is sadly aimed at a teen audience. There is something nearly sinister to how this depraved version of “Red Riding Hood” has been slapped together.

Hardwicke, who directed the first “Twilight” film (and was not asked back), is trying to play to the basest instincts of her intended audience. But will kids fall for it? This is a darker and raunchier “Twilight” with no emotional payoff for the young women who made this director a huge success three years ago.

Cast

Valerie – Amanda Seyfried

Peter – Shiloh Fernandez

Henry – Max Irons

Suzette – Virginia Madsen

Cesaire – Billy Burke

Grandmother – Julie Christie

Father Solomon – Gary Oldman

Credits

A Warner Bros. release.

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke.

Written by David Leslie Johnson.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Alex Mace, and Julie Yorn.

Cinematography, Mandy Walker.

Editors, Nancy Richardson, Julia Wong.

Music, Brian Reitzell.

Running time: 100 minutes.