Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood is a brainless American version of the classic tale, a wretched mess of a movie with nothing to recommend it. To dismiss it as a cheap romance novel would imply, at least, some romance and some degree of erudition, so let's just dismiss it.
Valerie (Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer's Body), the Red Hood of the title, lives in the American-occupied hippie village of Daggerhorn, located on the frontier of the Austro-Germano-Czecho-Hungario-Russo-Haight-Ashbury Black Forest. This is the sort of imaginary medieval town where everybody talks like they're from the Valley and wears sexy pajamas. Forest herbs are drying from every vertical surface.
Valerie's mother (Virginia Madsen) wants to marry her off to the wealthy blacksmith Henry (Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy), while her father (Billy Burke, Twilight movies, Drive Angry), a woodcutter and the village souse, wants to pass out in piles of his own filth.
But Valerie is in love with another woodcutter, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), and would rather run away with him. He's game, too, but their plan is cut short when the wolf bell sounds, signaling to one and all in the benighted village that the legendary werewolf has taken another victim. The victim is Valerie's own sister, Lucy, with whom the audience has no sympathy, because it has never seen or heard of her, and never really does. Nobody seems to miss her much or have had anything to do with her when she was alive.
Father Auguste (Lukas Haas), the village curate, immediately puts out a call for Father Solomon (Gary Oldman, ridiculous here), reputed to be able to ferret out werewolves, witches and other practitioners of the Black Arts. But the town doesn't want to wait for Solomon, and sends its own drunken hunting party to the rumored lair of the Werewolf, where they kill a mighty big fanged canine and bring back its head on a stick.
While they're whooping it up over that victory, Solomon arrives with two motherless daughters, some gladiators, an awesome orrery, stupid-looking silver fingernails and a giant metal elephant-shaped heat-torture device, with which he immediately sets to singeing the village's autistic children. The village, ecstatic over their wolf-killing, first ignores Solomon and continues with the Festival of the Dandelion Seed Head Girl, during which they dance like crazy idiots to modern goth-rock complete with reverb and microphone feedback. I guessed it was something to do with the acoustics of the forest. Renewed wolf attacks show that the villagers were indeed mistaken to think they'd ended its reign of terror, and Solomon is permitted to begin trying random villagers for wolfery and related crimes. This leads to Amanda Seyfried's having to wear the worst superhero helmet of all times. Don't ask. Save yourself from ever finding out.
The legendary British actress Julie Christie plays Valerie's grandmother, and is one of the few actors who rides out this Red Riding Hood with dignity intact. Her integrity and mysterious smiles keep threatening to put this train wreck on the track to somewhere. Grandmother lives on the edge of the forest in a house designed by Thomas Kinkade, but with spikes on the tree trunks--so, like, scary Thomas Kinkade--and sews Valerie's red "harlot's robe" (this is a quote from the movie). But Christie's performance can't save the film, and it's quickly turned into a hash which leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
There are a lot of dumb flashbacks, some of which are perhaps flashes forward. These provide some striking images which might make one wish for a better version of the Riding Hood story in which they might have meant something.
Red Riding Hood is listless, boring and silly. It's a mishmash of the Red Riding Hood story, not a reimagining or recontextualization. The characters (and actors, mostly) are wooden, the sets ridiculously filigreed, the secrets clumsily revealed, then not interesting. This is definitely one to avoid.
Internet Movie Database Entry
Roger Ebert Review
Visit Alex Christensen's
Democrat Guide to the 2012 Race for President