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Ann Hornaday reviews 'Red Riding Hood'

Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie in "Red Riding Hood," a fairy tale remake without much bite.
Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie in "Red Riding Hood," a fairy tale remake without much bite.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 9:11 AM

O, for the love of all that's Grimm, what hath "Twilight" wrought?

Hard on the heels of "Beastly," a modern retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," comes the revisionist fairy tale "Red Riding Hood," a lurid, loopy, utterly ludicrous enterprise that seeks to twist the ultimate fable of feminine fear and victimhood into an allegory for finding your inner bad girl.

Channeled by the ethereally beautiful Amanda Seyfried, the townsmaiden Valerie is all wide eyes and English-rose innocence as she longs for her soul mate, a humble woodcutter named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but is forced to marry the wealthier and far less dangerous Henry (Max Irons). When the town is attacked by the Big Bad Werewolf that resides in the nearby Very Dark Woods, the local priest looks for salvation in a hired werewolf-assassin named Father Solomon (Gary Oldman); soon the holy man has neighbors looking at one another for signs that one of them possesses distinctly lupine tendencies.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first "Twilight" movie, reportedly considered Taylor Lautner for the role of Peter, a nod to Team Jacob that suggests she took on "Red Riding Hood" purely out of spite for having been fired from the lucrative vampire franchise. (She did hire "Twi"-dad Billy Burke to play Valerie's father.) At least that theory helps explain how she could have become involved in such a misguided project, which veers wildly in tone between self-seriousness and outright parody.

Hardwicke, a former production designer, has come up with a visual style that emphasizes the story's fanciful roots; her trees are evocatively spiky, and the wintry landscape is dotted with splashes of bright, unseasonal color.

But despite Hardwicke's pictorial gifts, she has no sense of tonal control; what might have been a fascinating exercise in creative anachronism a la Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" instead just looks like an episode of "Gossip Girl" set at a Medieval Times restaurant. (Tellingly, Hardwicke hired Coppola's frequent musical collaborator, Brian Reitzell, to compose the score, which reaches the apex of overreaching hipness in a vaguely lewd dance-slash-rave.)

For the strenuous effort Hardwicke puts in to juice up "Red Riding Hood" with hormonal lust and psychosexual meaning, the movie remains an oddly wan, bloodless affair. My, what big pretensions it has. And not a cogent idea in its pretty little head.

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violence and creature terror, and some sensuality. 100 minutes.

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