It’s a hectic weekend at the video store this week with a plethora of new releases hitting store shelves to satisfy all shapes and sizes. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” takes a classic tale and puts and irreverent spin on it all.
In this twist on the classic fairy tale, we catch up with Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) 15 years later after their infamous incident at the gingerbread house, as these siblings have evolved into witch hunting bounty hunters who travel from town to town available to the highest bidder. There are no problems until their latest job has them stumble upon a scheme by the dark witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) that has more to it than initially meets the eye.
Hardly a movie that will ever run the risk of being taken with a completely straight face, this English language debut from writer/director Tommy Wirkola is a film that has some fun gonzo moments appropriate with the genre, but ones that are also fairly restrained and doesn’t do nearly enough. Heavy on the effects and the set pieces, it moves along at a fair enough pace but there are longs stretches where the film feels re-written and often drab as it flip flops between a viscerally gory action flick and campy horror. Last year’s “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” was substantially better at embracing the gonzo nature of the story while maintaining a certain tone about it all. Probably best known for his cult hit, “Dead Snow” the script by Wirkola ultimately didn’t know if it was coming or going, as there was the occasional fun moment that was committed to the genre, then there were others that felt out of place. The visual effects were admittedly pretty solid from top to bottom, despite a lot of obvious green screen work but it never really takes you out of the story as it was just a ridiculous fantasy film to begin with. An uneven feeling permeated the entire film from the storytelling all the way down to the cast, as some of them knew the kind of film that they were making, and the others really didn’t.
Jeremy Renner was at best a little miscast as Hansel, as his part and the delivery of his dialogue ranged from mildly inspired to clunky and not very funny when it was actually supposed to be fairly hilarious. He handles action well enough, but any genuine levity just came off as pretty awkward. It ultimately seems like Renner can only handle the kind of shtick that flies back and forth in this movie in short intervals. On the flip side of that coin, Gemma Arterton actually plays to the silly nature of the story quite well. Peter Stormare chews the scenery at every turn and Famke Janssen simply looks good in black, vamping up her witch character for all it is worth. For films of this nature to truly work, everyone involved has to be fully committed to the type of film that they are making, it just seemed like they weren’t on the same page as the narrative was never quite sure on which way to go trying to be serious one minute and campy the next and it effects the chemistry between them all especially between Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner.
The Extended Cut that is available on the Blu-Ray (The Theatrical Cut is on the DVD only) adds about 10 minutes to the proceedings and actually fleshes some moments out fairly well. The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray were top notch and this combo pack release features special features that include 3 behind the scenes featurettes looking at the making and casting of the film, a look at the mythology of witches and how it relates to the story and how trolls fit in the world of Hansel & Gretel so well.
Ultimately, there really are worse things out there then “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” just be sure to keep your expectations fairly low and have some fun with this dumb offering as it tries to campy, foul mouthed and gory all at the same time and on the small screen it actually works fairly well.
3 out of 5 stars.
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is now available to rent on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand from all major providers. It’s also available to purchase from all major retailers like amazon.ca, HMV & iTunes.
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