We get it. The Twilight trilogy, both in books and movies, is a gigantic hit. But holy demographics it's time for new blood! Red Riding Hood, the latest movie project under the influence of Stephenie Meyer's opus, takes a timeless fairy tale juicy with its own vivid metaphors of sex, death, danger, and young people and then goes all goofily Bella Swan-ish on the classic. The result is a dolled-up, overblown, pandering romantic costume drama that's not only sillier than the filmmakers surely intended but also, if you follow the plot implications all the way to the end, way ickier, too. (I'm not going to spoil the suspense by describing those plot implications, but trust me, they're icky.)
You of course remember the original: A girl in a (menstrual?) blood-red cloak goes over the river and through the woods to her grandmother’s house. Virginal and good, she ignores the come-ons of a wolf (no subtlety in that lupine metaphor). But when she gets to Grandma's, there's something about the old lady's big eyes, ears, and teeth that frightens her as they ought to, since the wolf, having already eaten Granny, disguises himself as the old lady and then eats Little Red, too. Eventually a manly hunter comes along and kills the wolf and pulls grandmother and granddaughter out alive. Curl up with Bruno Bettelheim's seminal analytic study of fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, to read more about virginity, loss thereof.
Settle in with the Red Riding Hood directed by Catherine Hardwicke yes, the same CH who directed the original Twilight and you're in a whole other neck of the deep, dark woods. This 2.0 version of the Girl Wrapped in Red is called Valerie. As played with wide eyes, a creamy décolletage, and a nice hint of a dirty smile by Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!), Valerie has a cool, blond complexion that masks a hot streak of defiance and lust. In an arrangement meant to help her poor family, Valerie has been promised in marriage to the town's rich boy, a perfectly handsome young gent named Henry (Max Irons), who really does care for her. But her heart and her desires belong to Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). That's because Peter is a more impetuous, danger-loving, bad-boy type. There's jealousy in the air and when it isn't coming from the competing suitors, it's emanating from the other village lasses, Mean Girls-style. (Hardwicke also directed Thirteen, about an impressionable teen girl and her mean new friend.) Let it be known that Irons (son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack, and grandson, let's add, of the wonderful actor Cyril Cusack) and TV actor Fernandez (no news on his parents or grandparents) make perfectly fine swains. Let it also be known that it's sometimes difficult to tell who's who, so subtly do their two cute-boy faces morph into one.
So far, Peter = Twilight's Edward, Henry = Jacob, Valerie = Bella. Under the circumstances, did the producers really have to cast the same actor who plays Bella's father to play Valerie's father, too? Crazy confusing, right? Billy Burke makes an okay father type and all, but the target audience for Red Riding Hood is going to spend half the movie wondering what Forks chief of police Charles Swan is doing in buckskin boots, chugging from a wineskin, then falling down drunk in his own vomit.
Meanwhile, back in the Brothers Grimm-type village, a werewolf (upgraded for Hollywood purposes from standard wolf status) has been terrifying the locals. Right at the top of the story, he kills Valerie's sister, and the beast makes it clear that he's out for more blood specifically, Valerie's blood. And while the menfolk organize a search posse, Valerie dithers about whom to trust. Who's the werewolf in human form? Rich kid Henry? Hothead Peter? (Cute, that Peter and the Wolf thing, another bedtime story altogether.) And what about Grandmother, played by fairy-tale-alluring Julie Christie? Granny's a kind of witchy, New Agey lady whose vibe changes from tender to sinister in the flick of an eye.
With a script by David Leslie Johnson (his first feature screenplay credit) and, I'm guessing, a lot of input from a gaggle of producers, Red Riding Hood goes from trite to triter, a plot collapse that overtakes any of the visual prettiness from cinematographer Mandy Walker (Beastly). A dead-end subplot involving casual Catholic-bashing introduces a hamvillainous Gary Oldman as a fearsome, sadistic, and stinking-rich priest in dandified robes who sidelines as a werewolf hunter. (He spends most of his time punishing his flock with grandiose, Inquisition-worthy tortures.) But in the end, this bad Father is forgotten, and we're back on all-too-familiar ground. ''One bite,'' the werewolf tells Valerie, ''and you'll be like me.'' Where have we heard that before? D+