Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Tommy Wirkola

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters Tommy Wirkola
If ever a script polish would have made the difference between a fun, cheeky action romp and an ultimately facile bauble of a film, Tommy Wirkola's steam punk revisionist fairy-tale is that movie.

The Dead Snow director is guilty of squandering an R rating on the kind of bland, rote dialog that writers resort to when lacking a speck of originality. With its forced badass tone and hard-hitting gore gags, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is begging for frequent injections of creative linguistic filth to match.

Someone like Ben Edlund (Angel, Supernatural) could have penned wittier wordplay while shot full of horse tranquilizers, and without the freedom to indulge in his id that an adult rating brings.

But as frustrating as the lethargic writing is, Wirkola nearly turns his action-heavy extension of the famous German fairy-tale into passable popcorn entertainment, thanks to lush and colourful art design that recalls a Guillermo Del Toro production, sound creature makeup and special effects, decently choreographed action scenes and a pair of leads who do their damnedest to sell the limp script.

Jettisoning the whole breadcrumbs bit, Hansel and Gretel are mysteriously left in the woods by their parents as children and stumble upon the witch's candy house, hungry and frightened. Their imprisonment and forced-fattening ends the same way: with their nasty crone captor roasting in her oven. Cue the opening credit montage, in which we're shown animated news clippings of the two as they gain infamy, one dead witch at a time.

All grown up and packing a plethora of unexplained technological gadgets, Hansel (Jeremy Renner, The Avengers) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, The Disappearance of Alice Creed) are hired to save a bunch of missing children from a village plagued by increasing witch assaults from the nearby woods.

Of course, this isn't just any old case. In order for it to be movie-worthy, there has to be a special super-witch antagonist (Famke Janssen, X-Men), a once every however many years ritual and the lure of learning what happened to their parents all those years ago.

Once the pieces are in play, it's exceedingly easy to put them into place well in advance of the formal revelations, but I doubt many are expecting a head-scratching mystery out of a movie that dresses its protagonists in fetish wear and positions them in action poses at every opportunity.

There are glib attempts at subtext, which are about as poignant and insightful as "don't judge a book by its cover," and every once in a while there's a half-clever aside — Hansel has diabetes — that hints at what could have been if a fraction as much time was spent on the script as on the elaborate action scenes and weapon fetishizing.

If you're tempted to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in 3D, be warned: having objects thrown directly at your eyeballs every five minutes gets wearisome fast. (Paramount)