Jeremy Renner as Hansel and Gemma Arterton as Gretel. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
February 4, 2013
(Republished June 10, 2013)
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is a silly, silly movie; a critique built into its very title. But don't be fooled into thinking it delivers what's printed on the tin! The name promises stupid fun, but only provides the former. This thing is supposedly meant to be funny, yet I can't recall any actual jokes in there. Certainly none that were particularly amusing. All the 'gags' involve our two heroes dropping the F-bomb in the stuffy, tightly-corseted Medieval setting, and it's a miracle we don't hear a record-scratch after each deployment. Writer-director Tommy Wirkola seems to think Hansel and Gretel are stoic icons akin to Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, and that the mere sight of them breaking their stern facade to crack wise is enough to induce rapturous, bowel-evacuating waves of laughter. (He clearly hasn't seen Paint Your Wagon). Instead, it's the worst kind of bad; a half-heartedly conceived, boringly executed, and instantly forgettable feathered-fish for absolutely no one.
Mercifully, the ordeal comes to an end in under 90 minutes. Stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are usually appealing, and as the titular Witch Hunters, they do well enough to not reveal open disdain with the uninteresting material they're given. Frankly, by the halfway point I was hoping they would just give in to the underlying sexual tension and make out. Perhaps that was just my unstimulated subconscious praying for something new and interesting - no matter how depraved or psychologically damaging - to occur. Hey, they're both attractive. And if Wirkola really wanted to distort our memories of beloved childhood characters, their tryst would be way more effective than simply showing them shotgun fictional creatures in the head.
He plays Hansel. She plays Gretel. As children they were captured by a witch and fattened up for a feast. The kids outsmarted her, burnt her alive, and, here's the twist, spent the rest of their lives hunting and killing witches for a fee. They are recruited by Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock) of Augsburg to wipe out a local coven, much to the consternation of the shirty sheriff (Peter Stormare), who doesn't want to be denied the opportunity himself. Famke Janssen appears as the head witch, and is given the greatest gift of all in layers of make-up that renders her unrecognisable, thus allowing her to pretend she's barely affiliated with the production. A troll turns up. That's seven sentences on the plot for you. Please don't ask me to go any deeper on this.
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are listed as producers, though you're more likely to find traces of their fingerprints on something like Lincoln - which is, genuinely, far funnier - than this flatliner. I'm inclined to say there is some cinematic gold to be unearthed with a twisted take on Hansel and Gretel; one in which they're more adequately developed as the scourge of the supernatural as opposed to a begrudging brother-and-sister team trapped in green-screen hell. But then, what was the best case scenario here? Would any iteration of this make us happy? What are we, as a society, even looking to take away from cinema these days? Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is just bad enough to incite an existential, soul-searching journey wherein we wonder if we are even capable of experiencing joy. The few smirks it organically inspired came during the outrageously violent evisceration of the witchfolk. That said, I just had to mutter "lucky bastard" when one particular individual was torn limb from limb.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is available on Quickflix from June 12, 2013.