Do you want the good news first or the bad news? Let’s start with the good. Firstly, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is less than 90 minutes long. That’s good. Also, Gemma Arterton is really pretty and wears a lot of awesome leather pants and gloves and vests and things. Those are also good. The title sequence was neat. And, it’s not boring. It is however, unrelentingly stupid, suffering from the worst screenplay this side of “The Room.” Do not pass go, do not collect $200, proceed directly to The Playlist’s Worst Of The Year 2013 List. In the words of Gretel: “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
This is the part of the review where I would describe the premise and basic plot outline of the film. This should be an easy task, but it’s not, because the script gives the audience next to nothing to work with. What country are we in? No idea. What time period is this? Based on dress, let’s guess medieval times, based on weaponry, let’s guess whenever “Looper” happened, based on how they talk, sometime in the mid-1990s. Who are Hansel and Gretel? They are a pair of siblings who happen upon a candy hut that appears to be in their backyard after their father abandons them in the forest. The witch inside tries to eat Hansel, Gretel saves him by savagely stabbing the witch, and the little moppets toss her in the oven. You know the story. When they escape, their parents are gone, so naturally, they turn into a pair of badass witch hunters. “Many Years Later” as the title card lets us know, they’ve been hired by the mayor of Oxburg (that might be the name, WHO KNOWS?), which is the TOWN THEY GREW UP IN, btdubs – even though they appear to have never been there or know anyone – to fuck up some witches who are stealing the town’s children. Why? Who cares. Hansel’s here to chew bubblegum and kick witch ass, and he’s all outta bubblegum. Also, he doesn’t want to talk about his parents, okay Gretel?!? GAWD.
So, Hansel and Gretel crash Peter Stormare’s witch burning party, saving this hot ginger chick with really pretty hair and inform Sheriff Stormare (I’d use his character’s name but I don’t think it was said once) that they’re the new witch-huntin’ sheriffs in town. Gretel punctuates this statement with a head butt, and Stormare gets to wear a funny nose patch thingy after that. He sends a grip of dudes out to find the missing kids anyway, but scary-hot witch Famke Janssen is NOT having it and she’s like “This is my turf!!” and dismembers them all, except one guy who she makes eat a bunch of worms. He brings a message back to the tavern, where Hansel and Gretel are meeting their superfan Benjamin (who has a scrapbook of all their old-tymey notices), and his message is to explode from eating too many worms. Gretel’s all like, “Obviously! The curse of eating too many worms!” So they kidnap a witch friend of Famke Janssen and figure out that she wants twelve different kids born in each month. (For what? Still no idea.) They try to save the last one but it’s too late because Famke Janssen blows up the town with magic fireballs. Hansel ends up in a tree and Gretel makes friends with a troll named Edward who looks EXACTLY like the trolls from “Troll 2.” Then a bunch of other stuff happens involving white witches, blood moons, and witches trying to be impervious to fire. I don’t want to spoil it, but trust me, it is insanely dumb.
Jeremy Renner, as Hansel, continues his extended punking of the Academy that gave him not one but TWO Oscar nominations by managing once again to be the place where screen charisma goes to die. He looks consistently bewildered, even when he’s boning that hot ginger witch in some random stream (did we catch a glimpse of his underwater naughty bits?). Also, he has a sugar sickness, brought on by the witch making him eat too much candy when he was a kid, and he has to give himself shots every couple of hours. So… diabetes? We were like “Good joke, ha!” and then it became a very important plot moment during the climax. Whoops! He wishes he could deliver his boo-ya punch lines with the pizzazz of Jerry Orbach landing a zinger in the opening of “Law & Order,” but alas, Jerry Orbach was a talented actor. RIP.
Gemma Arterton is very beautiful and charming and looks very good while wearing leather pants and kicking dudes in the face, but maybe Gretel is a little bit mentally challenged? She always states out loud whatever it is we just saw her do onscreen, e.g. “I just had a dream about mother,” “I need your help, Edward,” etc. When Hansel and Gretel stumble on their old house, it takes them a good ten minutes to recognize it. What we’re sayin’ is, these two ain’t the sharpest tools in the shed.
What are the sharpest tools, however, is the arsenal of weaponry that H&G are packing. There is a moment when Hansel pulls back a sheet to reveal a whole bunch of machine guns and bullets and grenades, and heavy metal plays for like 2 minutes. SWEET, DUDE! What I’m trying to say is that the movie is incredibly violent. If you LOVE watching women get punched in the face, especially Gemma Arterton, who gets punched in the face A LOT, you will love “H&G: WH.” I guess it’s good they’re keeping a lot of stunt women employed, but still, it’s a gratuitous amount of lady punching. And lady shooting. And heads being squished like so much raspberry jelly.
The film is nauseating in 3D, and makes ample, almost comical use of the format, missing not a single opportunity for wood shards or arrows or buckshot to fly at the audience. The fight scenes are cut too quickly and with too much camera movement to even discern what is happening. It’s messy, blurry, and motion sickness-inducing. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, it’s unclear if Wirkola himself read the script before the shoot. Not only is not even a single character more than one-dimensional, but every line falls flatter than a witch dispatched with a Gatling gun. There are many problems with ‘Hansel & Gretel,’ and every one of them leads back to the dud of a script they are working with, where the anachronistic dialogue never found a place it couldn’t shoehorn in a “fuck” or “shit” (gotta make that R-rating count!). Famke Janssen says, “Once upon a time, in a shitty little town,” (and we can’t help but steal the words right out of her mouth for this) and unfortunately, “…there was a really shitty movie.” [D]