Bless its bloody heart, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a schlocky, gory, silly guilty pleasure. It earns a thumbs up... but they’re broken thumbs.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a hard R. It’s full of horror violence, decapitations, F-bombs, and, of course, it even makes time for some brief nudity in its scant 88-minute run time (which includes a hefty dose of padding thanks to lengthy end credits).
That brief run time is reminiscent of the even briefer Jonah Hex. No, that was no masterpiece by any stretch, but it was a fun piece of nonsense in its own right, a goofy comic book movie that doubled as an homage to The Wild Wild West.
They’re both mash-ups of sorts and that’s become a popular formula in literature and film these days. Last summer, Seth Grahame-Smith took his own novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and rewrote it for the big screen. And Hollywood has gone back to the gold mines of classic tales and given them new twists. This year it’s Oz the Great and Powerful , last year was Snow White and the Huntsman.
With an open mind, go into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which uses the classic Brothers Grimm tale as a jumping off point, and let it do its thing. It ain’t Shakespeare, people. The title itself pretty much tells the entire story.
There are three big reasons why this update of the Hansel & Gretel tale works to the extent that it does: Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), and Famke Janssen (Goldeneye).
As schlocky as the movie gets – perhaps schlocky enough to make Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino wince – the stars of this movie “thing” are eye grabbing. There’s something oddly... uhh... bewitching... in watching Arterton kick buttocks and spew out the F-bomb. Renner takes the action as seriously as The Bourne Legacy. Janssen relishes the role of an evil witch.
Their star power matched with this muddled world of Grimm fairy tales, modern sensibilities, black leather, and weaponry well out of their time and place make for a bizarre, messy, sloppy piece of entertainment that is, in the interest of utterly full and complete disclosure, a little embarrassing to admit to enjoying.
There were a couple uh-oh moments even during the title cards and opening credits. For one thing, this is an MTV production. For another, Will Ferrell – yes, the comedian – is a co-producer. So, when milk bottles displaying portrait sketches of missing children line up across the screen, there’s a clue that this movie is coming at the material from all angles.
It’s irreverent, it’s politically incorrect, it’s violent. It’s a pastiche of bad taste and interesting ideas from Norwegian writer/director Tommy Wirkola.
Among the more interesting – and curiously humorous – notions is Hansel’s need for daily insulin injections (having eaten too much candy at the witch’s house while he was held captive as a young boy).
On the other hand, the movie has been pulled onto the 3D bandwagon and those efforts – even, or perhaps especially, in IMAX – are distracting. While there are some good old-school, in-your-face 3D effects, the overall experience is the sensation of missing parts of the fast-cut action as a result of the shoddy 3D glasses and lens glare.
Overall, when the opening lines of a movie include the advice “Never enter a house made of candy” and “If you’re going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” all the expectations need to be set accordingly.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is one of the so-bad-it’s-good popcorn munchers.