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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: Fractured fairy tale 

*1/2

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
*1/2
DIRECTED BY Tommy Wirkola
STARS Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton

Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Photo: Paramount)
  • Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Photo: Paramount)

The natural inclination is to compare Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — similar titles, similar punctuation, similar lunge for fan-boy dollars — but that wouldn't exactly be correct. Don't quote me on this, but I'm fairly certain the real-life Honest Abe never had to fight bloodsucking fiends — if he did, then Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner did an especially sloppy job researching Lincoln. On the other hand, the little tykes Hansel and Gretel did indeed slay a witch in the classic fairy tale, so a movie that suggests they elected to continue down this career path makes sense. And while the title may sound silly, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters still looks better as a marquee filler than if someone had decided to make, say, The Three Little Pigs: Wolf Hunters instead.

Yet in the long run, this fractured fairy tale hardly seems worth the effort. With producing credits for Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, it's apparent that this is meant to be as much a comedy as a fantasy flick, and there are some humorous bits up front (plastering "missing child" pictures on milk bottles is especially clever). But the laughs dry up quickly, and all that's left is a hyperactive action film featuring yet another humorless performance by Jeremy Renner (as Hansel), a village that looks about as authentic as the one created for the equally ill-advised Red Riding Hood, both human and CGI witches (including one borrowed from Mama) who prove to be about as menacing as a sleeping hamster, and anachronistic touches more idiotic than inspired (at one point, our heroes pack a modified machine gun).

As Gretel, Gemma Arterton tries to make up for Renner's somnambulism with a peppy turn (she only half-succeeds), while Fargo's Peter Stormare (here playing a loutish sheriff) is always good for a chuckle. Writer-director Tommy Wirkola's previous credits include the Norwegian Nazi-zombie flick Dead Snow, so viewers can expect a level of gore that in comparison makes Django Unchained look as wholesome as The Vow (OK, maybe not quite). The bloodletting at least breaks up the monotony of the fight sequences, which are not only repetitive but frequently shot in a jolting manner that suggests cinematographer Michael Bonvillain was experiencing whiplash.

The good names of Hansel and Gretel have been dragged through the mud with this project, but no need to fret on their behalf. They'll have a chance to make amends when another movie charting their exploits is released in February: Hansel & Gretel Get Baked, in which the pair battle a drug-dealing witch who uses marijuana instead of candy to lure kids into her home. Uh ...

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