Fighting back a crippling workload, a bad hangover from my annual St. Paddy's Day Leprechaun drinking game, and fighting off the urge to pick a fight with my old pal Deputy Dipshit in the lobby of the theatre(buying not donuts or coffee, but an icee he ate methodically with one of those spoon/straw things. He went to work on it like it was a gourmet meal) I was able to find time to watch Red Riding Hood.
I could just say I was only one of three people in the theatre and end this review here.
Oh, I knew it wasn't gonna be a contender at Cannes with the reviews I've read of it and the attachment of that fabled interpreter of "reel lidderrachurr" Catherine Hardwicke as director, but I was actually willing to give the film a chance. So many people are going off on the film for being a "horror" adaption of a fairy tale, that I kind of felt protective of it.
While I didn't hate this film, let's just say all my hope is dead now.
The plot is basically Wuthering Heights set in a mountain village in Medieval Germany, where Valerie(Amanda Seyfried) is caught between her well-to-do fiancee and poor childhood friend. The town she lives in has been ravaged by werewolves for decades, but was largely undisturbed until recently, when Valerie's sister is attacked and killed. Pretty soon, neighbor is turned against neighbor and virtually every character becomes a suspect for the identity of the werewolf. Yawn.
While the cinematography of the actual mountains is good at first, the film shoots that all to hell with incredibly fake CGI that makes the village itself look like a Kinkade painting animated in the style of those old Grantray-Lawrence Marvel cartoons. Basically, it looks like shit. Incredibly phony shit. The wolf, also CGI, is portrayed as a giant, and is so ridiculously fake-looking it makes the CGI in most Asylum and Video Brinquedo films look good. It also talks, in a gravelly voice that made everyone in the audience burst out laughing. A talking wolf is essential to this story, but damn, this is just stupid.
As for the actors, eh. Amanda Seyfried does all right, but is given too many scenes where she just stands around doing nothing, and Billie Burke and Julie Christie are pretty good in their roles as red herrings, but the outstanding performance award goes to...well I don't want to talk about him just yet. Anyway, none of these performances is what could reasonably be called good, and the supporting actors? Good God. The actors playing Valerie's love interests are two of the most bland, wooden actors I have ever seen.
There's also this one actor who plays the village idiot, and turns in one of the most insulting tard-performances in the history of tard performances. Yet, I don't hear any anti-defamation groups bitching about it. Rest assured though, next time someone makes fun of this kind of insulting performance, they'll load up on their torches and pitchforks. It'll be Tropic Thunder all over again.
Ranting aside, there is one great reason to see this film. In fact, you should just wait until it comes out on DVD so you can just watch all of his scenes. This reason's name is Gary Oldman. Midway through the film, for no reason other than to provide filler and obstacles(none of which play an important role in the climax), the town preacher calls upon a monster hunter named Father Solomon(Oldman), who the filmmakers have no idea at first whether he's going to be a wise professor Van Helsing or a vile Matthew Hopkins. Decked out in purple robes, wearing silver fingernails(for scratching werewolves and carving dinner. I am not making this up), adorned in bracelets, beads and other assorted jewelery, surrounding himself with huge muscular black men, boasting finely combed long hair and speaking with an accent apparently based off of a combination of Bela Lugosi as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein & Alfie Bass as Shagal in The Fearless Vampire Killers, Oldman turns Solomon into one of the most uproariously hilarious characters to grace the screen in decades.
But get this: Solomon is played 100% seriously! Finally just saying "Fuck it" with trying to present Solomon ambiguously, the filmmakers turn him into the main villain halfway through, and proceed to rip off every "crazed witchhunter" cliche in the book. Scenes are stolen wholesale from Witchfinder General, Mark of The Devil, The Crucible and plenty more. And each one of them becomes absolute comedy gold in Oldman's hands. His role really isn't anything more than an extended cameo, really, back in the 60's this film would have billed him as a "Guest Star". The character of Solomon could have been totally expurgated from the film without really affecting the plot at all, but Oldman makes each scene shine. This is the kind of unadulterated hamming Vincent Price, Lionell Atwill and the dear, recently deceased Michael Gough made famous.
There's a scene where Solomon has the village idiot roasted alive in, not kidding here, a FUCKING GIANT-SIZED ELEPHANT-SHAPED OVEN. It's meant to be emotionally affecting and to create a holocaust subtext, but it's so silly you'll laugh until you cry. Dr. Phibes would have been hard-pressed to come up with something as ludicrous. Sadly, I can find no images online. Other highlights of hilarity for the film are a dream sequence based off the "what big teeth you have" exchange from the fairy tale, which tries to be creepy and fails, as well as a scene where Valerie is betrayed and spat on by her friends, but because we never get to know her friends, the scene has zero emotional impact. A shame, because the actresses playing her friends are actually better than most of the other supporting actors.
The film admittedly has one great scene where one of Valerie's suitors is approached by her Grandmother, and it carries an air of subtle menace which actually did give me the creeps a bit. Sadly, everything else in the film dilutes it's power, and the saccharine conclusion destroys what could have been a great tragic ending. Still, this film, while I certainly won't ever see it again, is definitely worth seeing once, just for Oldman's hamming. And not to be a perv, but I'm kinda dissapointed that the original ending of the story where Red stripteases for the Wolf wasn't retained, especially considering who the wolf turns out to be in this version. It would have been awesomely messed up.
One thing I did learn from this film though, is that apparently hair gel existed in Medieval Europe.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to be off to pitch a Father Solomon spin-off Tv series for Comedy Central.