“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” Movie Review

     "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" is like watching "From Dusk Till Dawn" minus Tarantino's writing.  The filmmakers are satisfied with a paper thin story line and lay on the blood and gore in an attempt to create something they might have thought creative, but instead  the result is a by the numbers genre film with little else to offer.  One has to wonder what star Jeremy Renner was thinking, though I understand the film was shot a couple years ago before he landed roles in "MI4" and "The Bourne Legacy".  Overall, the film has a polished look, but it's inner core is no more complicated than one of the recent "Ghost Rider" films.  I suppose I wouldn't be surprised to find out Nicolas Cage was offered Renner's role at some point.

     In a pre credit prologue, we see the father of a young Hansel and Gretel running through the forest and hiding his children before the towns people make there way to the family home for what is assumed to be for reasons not good.  The young brother and sister awaken in the woods and make their way to a house made of candy.  Once inside, they find themselves captive as the house is occupied by an old gruesome witch.  The two escape, but not before tossing the witch in a fiery oven.  They must assume their parents were killed at the hands of witches and thus the story begins.  When we see them again, they are now grown and apparently make their living as "Witch Hunters" for hire.

     With it's basic revenge plot in place, the siblings are hired to find several missing children who are assumed to have been kidnapped by witches.  The witches, it turns out, are preparing for a ritual involving a "Blood Moon" that also explains some of the unexplained parts of Hansel and Gretel's past.  This is all a set up, of course, to give the filmmakers an excuse to stage action sequences involving our heroes versus some very hideous witches.  We are told early these witches lose their human appearance from years of witch craft and this is certainly true of the many waves of witches we see in the film.  Strangely enough, these witches seem to have limited magical ability.  In fact, aside from getting around on broom sticks, their most significant skill seems to be a high aptitude in martial arts!  Nearly every scene in which Hansel and Gretel engage with the witches, weapons and witch craft are quickly abandoned and the adversaries duke it out UFC style.  Strange I know, but what do you expect?

     Writer/Director Tommy Wirkola didn't bother to really flesh out any of his characters, so when each dies, you really won't care.  If anything, you might see some of the creativity that went into some of these scenes, but that's as good as it gets.  One nifty, yet flawed, sequence has our heroes setting a trap where they string razor wire from two trees across from one another, top to bottom.  The intention is that a pack of witches will fly into the trap and be cut to pieces.  It's a nice idea, but in such a large forest with a multitude of paths to take, how do they know the witches will go that way and fall into their trap?  I guess the witches in this case were really unlucky!  At least the witch leader, Muriel (played by Famke Janssen) was smart enough to bring up the rear so her life would be spared for one last stand against our beloved witch hunters!

     If this concept was taken more seriously, you may have had the potential for a top shelf horror flick.  Why not make the witches scary and give them some real bite, making them a legitimate threat?  The witch in "The Wizard of Oz" carries more weight as a screen presence than all of the characters combined in this film and that means something seriously went wrong in the creative process.  There may be nothing worse than realizing the idea for a film seems promising, only to see it and leave without that promise being fulfilled.  Since I brought up "The Wizard of Oz", I might as well reveal the writers couldn't help themselves and wrote in a few undercover "good" witches for good measure. GRADE: D