Two out of five stars
Despite attractive packaging, “Hansel and Gretel” leaves you hungry for more.
Picking up where the fairy tale left off, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are now all grown up. Their previous witch-killing adventure has led them to become famous witch hunters. When they’re hired to figure out who’s kidnapping children in Augsburg, Germany, it looks like a standard job. Yet, the more they uncover about the kidnappings, the more the twins realize they may have a connection to their past.
Modernizing fairy tales isn’t new to Hollywood, but turning them into utter absurdity is. Although the film hints at fantasy, it’s as if the angle was thrown in to get more money from the studios.
The first third of the movie moves quickly, setting up the plot and major characters. There are even a few decent jokes. To see the duo in witch-killing form is novel at first. But when Hansel and Gretel start their investigation, the film slows to a crawl. The twins’ chemistry is one of the film’s better points, but when they’re shortly separated, the film feels boring.
This is when the errors become very clear. Hansel and Gretel apparently are immune to broken bones and pain. They just need to sleep off the fight and they’re healed. As a result of his childhood witch encounter when he was forced to eat copious amounts of candy, Hansel is now diabetic. If he doesn’t have an insulin injection every three hours, he’ll die. It’s a clever plot point, but inconsistent. Hansel manages to spend the night in a tree, knocked out and upside down no less, and wakes up fine. Yet only when he’s fighting for his life does that detail suddenly pop up.
Hansel and Gretel receive help in their investigation from a supporting cast consisting of Augsburg townswoman Mina (Pihla Viitala), Ben (Thomas Mann, “Project X”), a star-struck fan of the duo, and a troll Edward (Derek Mears/Robin Atkin Downes) who defies the witches to protect Gretel.
Since it’s a horror film, the supporting cast doesn’t offer much, which could be overlooked if it had better pacing. Instead, it’s obvious that Mina has a secret and wants to be Hansel’s love interest. You realize Ben’s purpose is to, at times literally, be a human shield and is written more like a stalker than a devoted fan. Edward, despite being likable, looks more like a “Planet of the Apes” escapee than a troll.
The makeup in this film is surprisingly comical considering its big budget. The witches are supposed to instill fear, instead they’re underwhelming. The main witch Muriel just has pale skin with black lipstick and dark shading to make her eyes sunken in. Simple techniques like cuts and bruises aren’t done accurately. The level of makeup quality is more appropriate for “Jersey Shore.”
Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”) is the best of the cast as Gretel. She has an innocent, fairy-tale look until she starts throwing punches. Gretel manages the fine line female characters have in an action film — to be both feminine and tough — decently well. It’s always good to see a female character breaking the mold by being more focused on getting the job done rather than finding a love interest.
Renner (“The Bourne Legacy”) continues his quest to be a mainstream action star as Hansel. He just needs to throw a punch, be coherent and look pretty. But Arterton and Renner have believable sibling chemistry, and their acting is better when they can bounce lines off each other.
If you’re looking for mindless popcorn entertainment, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” is for you. Of course the studio is hoping that Renner, Arterton and the promise of 3-D fight scenes will be enough of a bread crumb trail to lead you to the theater. Before you become too enticed, take a page from the Brothers Grimm and walk away.
Contact Jenny Claire Knight at email@example.com.