GREG'S GRADE: C+
By any serious measure, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is not a good movie. Writer-director Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow") throws a whole bunch into his pot (or should that be cauldron?), none of which should be in the same movie together and none of which is given time to develop. Yet I found this jumbled hodgepodge strangely entertaining.
There are elements of the fairy tale; action punctuated by liberal amounts of blood and gore, and one effect borrowed from "The Matrix"; witches transplanted from a horror movie; a forbidden love; a King Kong-esque subplot; and two lead characters who sound like they were beamed in from 21st-century America.
The familiar fairy tale serves as the jumping-off point in the prologue. Left alone in the woods, young brother-and-sister Hansel and Gretel stumble across a house made of candy and kill the witch who imprisons them there, setting them on their path as bounty hunters ridding the world of those who practice black magic.
"Many years later," Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) show up in the town of Augsberg, where they stop the maniacal sheriff (Peter Stormare) from burning an accused witch (Pihla Viitala) without proof, and where the mayor (Rainer Bock) has hired them to find the witch he believes is responsible for the many children who recently have gone missing.
The movie kinda-sorta works because no one involved takes any of it too seriously, playing it instead with a dry humor best embodied by Renner. He brings a gruff, Snake Plissken-like charisma to the role, and Hansel's attitude toward witches isn't much different than the sheriff's. "Burn 'em all" and "The only good witch is a dead witch," he says. Requiring a little more evidence, his more open-minded sister keeps him in check. But don't confuse Gretel with being soft. Arterton plays her with a spunky fire, holding her own in a fight and dropping a few F-bombs along the way.
This isn't a prestige picture or a big studio tentpole, and the movie seems to embrace that. Its budget was a reported $50 million -- a healthy chunk of change, to be sure, but a pittance compared to today's blockbusters. The point is, this essentially is a B-movie that offers some campy fun, along with fairly well done action scenes and special effects (though the 3-D treatment does its best to obscure both the action and effects).
And maybe the best part? At only 88 minutes, it's over long before it has time to wear out its welcome.
Rated R for strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language. 88 minutes.