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HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS

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The fairy-tale brother-and-sister pair who barely escaped that gingerbread house with their lives has grown up and is kicking some serious witch butt in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” But that’s the only remotely serious thing in the silly, bombastic action extravaganza directed by Tommy Wirkola, whose previous picture “Dead Snow” was a slashed movie about a bunch of students stalked by Nazi zombies and is here working from a script he’s based on a premise not much more intelligent. It is, however, less brutal and bloody than “Snow”—and thus aimed at the adolescent trade.

It’s highly doubtful, however, that even the thirteen-year old boys who rejected previous attempts to turn old Grimm Brothers fables into twenty-first century adventures, like “Snow White and the Huntsman” or “Red Riding Hood,” will embrace such a goofy grab bag of computer-manipulated stunts, endless fights, creature effects and supposedly cheeky but definitely lame dialogue, especially as limply directed by Wirkola. Compared to the visual virtuosity and brash panache that Timur Bekmembetov brought to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” his work comes across as pedestrian.

As to plot, there isn’t much. After a prologue recounting the old story in ten minutes or so, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are re-introduced as twenty-something witch hunters boating lots of weapons and wearing duds that look like they might have been retrieved from the “Underworld” wardrobe department. They come to Augsburg, where a bunch of kids have been abducted, and after saving Mina (Pihla Viitala) from execution by the evil sheriff (Peter Stormare), they’re off to find out what’s afoot, assisted along the way by sweet-tempered lad Ben (Thomas Mann), who as quickly develops a crush on Gretel as Mina does on Hansel.

It turns out that the chief witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen) has abducted the children for use in a ritual, to be held on the night of the Blood Moon, that will also involve Gretel’s heart and result in her gaining some enormous power, though its nature isn’t entirely clear, at least not to this viewer. After what seems like an endless succession of battles between H&G and Muriel and her band of followers, everything winds up at a Witches’ Sabbath at which Hansel, Mina, Ben and a troll named Edward (Derek Mears, looking like a sallow version of Hellboy), wind up trying to rescue Gretel and the abducted children from Muriel and her band, using guns blessed with magic charms that blow the evil spawn of Satan to bits. It happens that Muriel’s plot is also connected with what happened to Hansel and Gretel’s parents (Thomas Scharff and Kathrin Kuehnel) many years before.

The movie is drearily repetitive, consisting mostly of battles in which the titular duo get tossed about by witches that they’re trying to capture before blowing them up somehow. Occasionally they get beaten up by the wicked sheriff too, though he meets with the obligatory gory fate as a result. There are, of course, periodic quieter interruptions in the action, especially involving Mina (who actually goes skinny-dipping with an injured Hansel) and Ben (who moons over the unconscious Gretel at one point). But the attempts at romance are half-hearted, and those that are meant to be humorous are even worse, mostly involving the inappropriate use of modern obscenities.

Perhaps things would have gone better were Renner less of a stolid stiff and if Arterton possessed any personality. As is it, however, they’re a dull pair. Mann has a boyish charm and Viitala is attractive, but they’re lost in the shuffle, and Janssen makes an unimpressive villainess, even when encased in gruesome makeup. She and her minions aren’t really much scarier than the trio of witches led by Bette Midler in the Disney bomb “Hocus Pocus,” which was of course a children’s comedy. The effects are frankly mediocre, with an overabundance of those tired “in your face” 3D moments, and the score by Atli Orvarsson (with an odd “supervisor” credit for Hans Zimmer, whatever that means) is loud and thoroughly forgettable.

It’s time this sub-genre of action fairy-tales was retired. It’s a hopeless cause, and filmmakers should just admit that and move on. As for the ending of “Hansel and Gretel,” which seems to suggest that the makers actually believe that it might become a franchise, one can only say that a sequel seems about as likely as “John Carter 2.”

I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY

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Anyone who uses a word like “hate” in the title of a movie must have supreme self-confidence. But self-confidence can be misplaced, and that’s certainly the case with Nia Vardalos, whose attempt to replicate the inexplicable success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” falls flat with “I Hate Valentine’s Day,” which she once again wrote, directed and stars in. Simply put, this is a lousy movie, an indie romantic comedy even worse than most of the bigger-budgeted but almost invariably rotten Hollywood examples of that unhappy genre.

It starts with one of the dumbest premises you’re ever likely to encounter. Genevieve (Vardalos), a gregarious flower-shop owner in a fairy-tale Brooklyn where the weather’s warm and sunny year-round (even in February!), stays happy in her personal life by following a simple (and idiotic) rule. She’ll have no more than five dates with any man, believing that any more than that would turn a joyous, commitment-free encounter into a relationship fraught with problematic entanglements. Foolishly, all her stereotypical neighborhood pals not only accept this dictum but turn to her for advice on dating!

The plot kicks in when Genevieve meets Greg (John Corbett, also returning from “Wedding”), the hunky owner of a nearby store that he’s turning into a tapas bar (the sophistication quotient of the script is suggested by its name—“Get On Tapas”). He’s an erstwhile lawyer who’s abandoned the grind for a less complicated life, and before long he and Genevieve are an item. A crisis arrives with their fourth date: Genevieve stays overnight at Greg’s and they spend the next day together. Greg, aware of her rules, takes that extra day as the fifth date and cuts off further contact. She doesn’t and thinks he’s just dumping her. Even after the confusion is resolved, the big question is whether the two, obviously meant for one another, can get together again.

Many moronic script devices have driven Matthew McConaughey pictures, but surely this is flimsier and stupider than any of them. And it’s worked out with a slavish adherence to formula cliché. Need one add that the supporting characters are all stereotypes, too? There are, for example, Genevieve’s two inevitably gay assistants (Stephen Guarino and Amir Arison), whom she’s nicknamed “Oops” and “Uh-Oh” because they repeat those words whenever they make a mistake (which they do with grinding regularity). And the chubby but lovable deli owner down the street (Mike Starr). All three actors are stuck in wretched roles and don’t transcend them, but even they look good beside Gary Wilmes, playing Greg’s self-absorbed, womanizing best friend Cal, who’s certainly one of the most repulsive characters to grace the screen in years, and whom Wilmes exerts no effort to redeem.

But, of course, the main problem lies in the leads. Vardalos, whom some found winning in “Wedding,” is atrocious here. The part she’s written for herself is terrible anyway—the woman is supposed to be lovable (and beautiful) but comes across as a Lucy Ricardo clone without the charm—but she then compounds the error by awful direction, staging virtually every scene with herself at the center, beautifully lit, as she smiles vacuously barely moving a muscle. Of course, the virtue of that customary immobility is demonstrated in sequences where she’s more animated, like a particularly ghastly one in which she pulls up her skirt in the middle of the street and stretches this way and that with it over her head in to straighten her panties. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Corbett, meanwhile, takes laid-back to new levels. It’s almost as if he were trying to disappear into the background, understandably embarrassed by the script—but if so, his laudable ambition was foiled. You can still see him.

There are a couple of bright moments in the movie, mostly provided by Zoe Kazan as a wimpy girl seeking romantic advice and veteran Jay O. Sanders as some sort of deliveryman who shows up periodically at the flower shop to deliver words of wisdom about marriage. But they’re like drops of water in a desert. “I Hate Valentine’s Day” is technically mediocre, but that’s really a step up from the wretchedness of its content. And so we end with the preordained redundancy: I hate “I Hate Valentine’s Day.”