The “Rocky and Bullwinkle” TV show used to have a segment titled “Fractured Fairy Tales,” and this version of the old girl-and-a-wolf story could easily fall under that rubric. But while “Red Riding Hood” is certainly fractured, it’s not funny like Jay Ward’s pieces—at least not intentionally. It’s goofy, in the way the “Twilight” movies are—predictable, perhaps, since it comes from Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first movie in that franchise and is clearly trying to mimic its swooning adolescent romanticism here. But the result is simply ludicrous. Of course, pictures about werewolves involve the full moon, so it’s only appropriate that this one should reek of lunacy.
That’s the big change in David Leslie Johnson’s script: it goes lycanthropic. A storybook village in some snowswept mountain locale has been terrorized for generations by a werewolf that the locals hold off by providing it with livestock. But after it kills a young lass, the men of the place go off to hunt it down, even though the local priest (Lukas Haas) has already summoned famed werewolf-slayer Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to come and help.
The hunting party includes a number of guys connected with Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), the beautiful sister of the slain girl. One is her father Cesaire (Billy Burke). Another is darkly handsome woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), with whom Valerie has been in love since they were childhood chums. And the third is pretty-boy blacksmith Henry (Max Irons), to whom Cesaire and his wife Suzette (Virginia Madsen) have betrothed Valerie because he’s comparatively rich. Unfortunately, though the hunt nabs a wolf, Henry’s father (Michael Shanks) dies in the process, and Solomon arrives to tell the villagers it’s the wrong beast anyway—an ordinary wolf rather than the lycanthrope.
From here on the picture collapses into a muddle of woozy romance and horror-movie cliché, with the Valerie-Peter-Henry triangle heating up while the implacable Solomon takes unsteady aim at the werewolf, which invades the village and invites Valerie to run off with it. Eventually Valerie’s accused of witchery and offered as a sacrifice to the wolf, leading Cesaire, Peter and Henry to join together in an alliance to save her. Also brought into the plot is Valerie’s grandmother (Julie Christie), who lives off in a ramshackle cabin by herself and tries to protect the girl, too. Unless, of course, she’s the werewolf.
That question becomes the linchpin of the movie’s last reels. Convinced that the monster is a villager, Solomon resorts to extreme measures—including use of an old Roman torture device in the shape of a metal elephant—to identify the villain; and everyone becomes a suspect. The revelation comes when Valerie, finally emulating the heroine of the original tale rather than the village harlot, goes off to grandmother’s house (we actually get the “big eyes, big ears, big teeth” bit at this point, though only in a dream) and learns the truth—though there are romantic consequences that once again bring “Twilight” to mind.
The one thing “Red Riding Hood” has going for it is that it’s visually arresting, with outstanding production design (Thomas E. Sanders), art direction (Don Macaulay), set decoration (Mark Tompkins and Shane Vieau) and costume design (Cindy Evans). And cinematographer Mindy Walker presents it all in images that are lush and evocative. The result has a fairytale ambience similar to the one that Roman Polanski brought to “The Fearless Vampire Killers” decades ago.
But that film had a sense of fun; here only Oldman, winking at us almost every moments he’s onscreen, seems to realize how ridiculous it all is. The other cast members, even Christie, seem intent on taking the rubbish more seriously than not. And the young leads are embarrassing. The lovely Seyfried seems to confuse acting with staring into the camera with big moon eyes, while Irons comes across like a surfer dude doing medieval dress-up. As for Fernandez, one can only imagine that Hardwicke chose him as the closest physical approximation she could manage to Robert Pattinson.
But the “Twilight” magic is unlikely to strike in this case. “Red Riding Hood” is one loony misfire.