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'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' can't find the right balance

Posted 2:51pm on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

R (strong fantasy horror violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity, strong language); 86 min.


An R-rated horror action comedy fairy tale -- how's that for genre bending?

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is more Gatling guns and grenades than The Brothers Grimm. It takes the kidnapped kiddies into adulthood, where they've parlayed their fame at cooking a witch's goose into a business. Got a witch problem? Call H & G -- the extermination experts.

High-concept pitch or no, the movie doesn't really work. They were shooting for sort of a witch-hunting Zombieland, an f-bomb-riddled Van Helsing packed with comical anachronisms -- a Bavarian forest with witch trials, pump shotguns and primitive tasers, where bottles of milk have woodcut pictures of "missing children" on the labels.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) show up just as the village of Augsburg is about to burn a redhead. "Gingers" were a favorite target of witch hunters. Hansel shrugs this barbaric crime off, but Gretel insists that the locals need "evidence." That puts them in conflict with the sheriff (Peter Stormare), who can't get a handle on their "witch plague" and the missing children who come with it. H & G have been hired to do what he cannot.

Writer-director Tommy Wirkola focuses on the fights and flings all manner of viscera at the 3-D camera as limbs are whacked off and heads and torsos explode.

Less attention was paid to the story, and the dialogue is a tad over-reliant on the random f-word to land a laugh.

The cleverest touch? Hansel's mania for candy-covered houses is what landed Hansel and Gretel in that witch's clutches, all those years ago. Now, he carries an ancient hypodermic needle and takes injections to ward off insulin shock.

-- Roger Moore,

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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