Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Jeremy Renner sleepwalks his way through this clearly painful experience.

Released in cinemas 27th February 2013.

Its release delayed for almost a year, this absolutely atrocious ‘action comedy’ take on the classic fairy tale should have been shelved permanently, if only to spare the blushes of its stars.

It must have taken witchcraft to get Jeremy Renner post-Hurt Locker and The Town (and two Oscar nominations) to sign on for this abomination, as well as the charming, appealing British actress Gemma Arterton, who’s worth so much more than the run-of-the-mill blockbusters Hollywood has seen fit to allocate her (Prince of Persia, Clash of the Titans).

The folk tale of Hansel and Gretel is a dark and twisted one, and is ripe for a violent, adult version. Sadly, Norwegian writer-director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) mangles the tone, attempting a part-Steampunk, part-outrageous tongue-barely-in-cheek romp with the odd bit of blood-splattering, and the results are unexciting, and excruciatingly unfunny. Utterly witless, the cast blunder their way through a dire screenplay packed full of gags that die a terrible death, one that doesn’t make any advances on the Grimms’ deliciously imaginative story. It doesn’t even have the nerve to include biting commentary on the shameful persecution of women in the Middle Ages. The only things that are slightly amusing - and would’ve worked well in a better film - are twists on defibrillators and insulin shots.

The intitial premise is admittedly a good one: 15 years after the brother and sister fought their way out of the gingerbread house of a child-eating witch, Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) are now leather-clad, gun-toting, witch-slaying mercenaries. The slight plot involves the pair investigating the disappearance of children in a village, with Famke Janssen the grand evil witch. Janssen, Arterton and a scenery-chewing Peter Stormare are the only actors vaguely running with the light-hearted material, while Finnish actress Pihla Viitala plays it sweet and straight as a good witch. Renner sleepwalks his way through this clearly painful experience to an alarming degree - at one point he portrays a devastating loss with a blank glance.

It’s an ugly film as well. The hair and make-up is staggeringly poor; Janssen’s foundation is crusty and caked, the colour of Pihla’s dye-job/wig is hideously brassy; only the fresh-faced Arterton seems to have escaped the department’s evil make-up wands. The visual effects are okay when things get more fantastical and violent, but can’t shine in Wirkola’s uninspired staging and the botched editing. Trolls play a big part, and are responsible for the biggest unintentional laughs as poor Arterton gets the closest thing to a love interest in an ogre named Edward. The pointless 3D is flat and dark in the gloomy film, which contains the odd gimmicky shot.

Not suitable for children, but despite the odd crushed skull and F-bomb, it’s too silly and safe for genre fans to relish. At a mere 88 minutes in length, this miserable experience feels ten times longer than all the deadly serious award favourites put together.

Rating: 2/10