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'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters' movie poster
© Paramount
Once targeted as the next big thing, period genre mashups like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the long-delayed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies have thus far fizzled either at the box office or, in the case of the perhaps never-to-be-filmed Pride, even before reaching the box office. Hollywood's latest stab at the format is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which does little to revitalize a genre that may never take off.

The Plot

Having escaped the clutches of a hungry witch as children after being abandoned in the woods by their father, orphan siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) have grown up to become renowned witch hunters for hire. They rove the medieval landscape disposing of the hags, aided by an array of weapons and their mysterious immunity to witches' spells, an ability they themselves are at a loss to explain.

Their latest gig is in the town of Augsburg, where a number of children have disappeared recently, presumably at the hands of witches. The hunters uncover a plot by a powerful dark magician named Muriel (Famke Janssen), who's trying to concoct a potion to take away witches's vulnerability to fire. Can they foil the plan before it's too late? And what will they uncover about their past in the process?

The End Result

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters'.

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters'.

© Paramount
Like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Hansel & Gretel has promise that rarely ekes its way on screen, in part because each lacks the tongue-in-cheek humor inherent in the mashup concept. Whereas Abraham Lincoln takes itself too seriously, though, Hansel & Gretel appears simply to be poorly written. It seems to think it's more whimsical than it really is, generating not so much as a smirk through its entire run time. It's hard to imagine any studio-type could read this script and not think it needs some comedic punch-up, most notably the bland heroes who practically scream for some witty banter, a memorable "Hasta la vista, baby" finishing line or ANYTHING to elevate them from their wafer-thin characterizations -- but alas, no such luck.

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola's first language isn't English, and there are some nuances of humor that didn't translate -- at least, nowhere near as effectively as in his cult zombie flick Dead Snow. Whatever the reason, once you get past the intriguing nature of the mashup concept, the story is bland, the characters are uninteresting, the humor (or lack thereof) falls flat and even the fast-paced action sequences -- the core of the film's draw -- fail to show any real originality. Because the witches' powers are useless against Hansel and Gretel, the action boils down to a bunch of generic gun fights and hand-to-hand fights that separate themselves from the bulk of Hollywood fare only due to their period trappings. The production design strives for a nifty medieval steam punk vibe, but, like most aspects of the film, it doesn't go far enough.

The only part of the movie that exudes the level of glee you might expect is its over-the-top gore -- which shouldn't come as a surprise to fans of Dead Snow. However, Hensel & Gretel has a breezy, Hollywood blockbuster look and feel (which Dead Snow lacked) that doesn't gel with the overt blood 'n guts.

The Skinny

  • Acting: D+ (Stiff and unfunny, Renner feels miscast.)
  • Direction: C+ (Well-shot, kinetic action sequences, but overall it feels sterile and lacking in emotion.)
  • Script: D (Interesting concept, but boring characters and bland plot.)
  • Gore/Effects: B- (High level of gore; good mix of practical makeup effects and CGI.)
  • Overall: C- (Not terrible, but immediately forgettable.)

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is directed by Tommy Wirkola and is rated R by the MPAA for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language. Release date: January 25, 2013.

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