Hollywood’s current obsession with rebooting fairy tales has only been going on for a short while, compared with the decade-plus of superhero movies flying in and out of theaters. But it’s already starting to feel very once upon a time. The latest refurbished bit of folklore is Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, an intermittently fun, but overexcited and predictable mish-mash that posits the two Grimm children as having grown up into a pair of leather-clad, automatic crossbow-wielding, witch-slaying siblings. The movie has been sitting on the shelf for a while, and like, say, a house of candy you might find in the woods, it’s gotten a bit stale.
Jeremy Renner tries not to think about his two Oscar nominations as he grimaces and smirks his way through a by-the-storybook plot about his and his sister’s (Gemma Arterton) efforts to thwart a grand witch (Famke Janssen) intent on stealing twelve children for an important black Sabbath sacrifice. Despite the fact that the film is produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the tone is more cute than clever, and willful anachronisms pop up all over the place like cell phones on the Titanic. It’s pretty easy to tell early on where the plot’s trail of breadcrumbs is leading — surprise, Hansel and Gretel’s parents weren’t what they seemed! — but Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola keeps things moving with enough energy to gloss over the script’s laziness. Wirkola, who helmed the Nazis-on-ice horror comedy Dead Snow, is also fond of cartoonish gore: witches are drawn and quartered and sliced into chunks, and a number of heads explode wetly like overripe tomatoes. This is presumably meant to take advantage of the film’s 3-D, although the extra dimension is filled with so much splintered timber, fractured crossbeams, and flying branches that it feels like someone has pointed the angry end of a woodchipper at your face for most of the movie.
Psychologist and fairy-tale analyst Bruno Bettelheim once ran the original Hansel and Gretel story through the Freud-o-tron and concluded it was intended to aid children in overcoming their oral fixations. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has learned no such lesson in restraint, indulging fully in its own childish fixations on brainless action and mindless violence. While this might give you an initial sugar rush, eventually you’ll be stuffed so full you can’t help but get a stomachache. C?