In my high school days, I wrote a script about a hitman who does drugs with Jesus. I thought it was edgy. Fortunately, you’ll never see it to know otherwise. Occasionally though, juvenile ideas like that land on the desks of eager producers. In rarer cases, they’re blessed with a million dollars and a distribution partner. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, the grindhouse retelling of a beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tale, is one of those “success” stories.
As children, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) were abandoned by their parents. Wandering deep inside a forest, they discovered a house made of candy. This became their first hustle with a witch. Since incinerating the heathen, the duo’s been vagabonding as bounty hunters, exterminating her sisters in spellcasting all over the world. Recently, the town of Augsburg’s been troubled with its own witch problem. Sightings have increased and several young’uns have been snatched from their homes. Naturally, Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock) hires the siblings to investigate. This draws them to an evil that may unravel the secrets of their past.
At 88 minutes, this “classic tale with a new twist” is short, never sweet. The script, written by director Tommy Wirkola matches my review for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in literary discourse. But Wirkola’s previously helmed a drive-through flick about Nazi zombies so, to his credit, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters stays in his lane of stupid. Every wisecrack — the heart of matinée adventures — is a bad Raimi-ism. There aren’t even any absurd twists, or a story arc at that. After some skin, it dissolves into rituals, enchanted weapons, and poorly animated trolls. Still, can’t say I wasn’t mildly entertained by its violent climax, even if the foreplay wasn’t worth $18.
The characters are unlikeable too, but thankfully, the cast playing them isn’t. Whether it’s good looks, charm, or admiration for their past work that hooks you, they make the film somewhat watchable. It’s reassuring that most took the job for the paycheck — Famke Janssen, who stars as the head witch, admits she signed on to settle her mortgage. Meanwhile, Renner’s performance is ancient — a relic from his time as a breakout star. Wirkola claims Paramount Pictures delayed the film for the actor to become bankable. After co-staring in “The Avengers” and having top billing in “The Bourne Legacy,” he is now. And I don’t care what made Arterton show, she’s super cute.
In the house of sweets from their childhood, Hansel slopped on cookies that made him diabetic. He now carries the world’s first hypodermic needle. Wirkola could learn from his character’s opulence. Cramming Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters with blood and f-bombs may have looked like a good idea but it doesn’t make the end result particularly pleasant.