A paycheck movie is a film nobody thinks is good but somehow still gets a multi-million dollar budget and the backing of a major studio. Everyone who participates in the film do so for one reason: the paycheck. Michael Caine did it in “Jaws: The Revenge.” The latest such venture is “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play grown up versions of the title characters from the Grimm’s fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel.” In the original story, the siblings were captured by a witch and fed candy to fatten them up so there’s more of them to eat. Having escaped that witch, the pair have devoted their lives to destroying every witch they come across. They’re supposed to be the best, but every time they catch a witch and have her pinned down she escapes, allowing for an action sequence to ensue.
The latest witch they’re up against is Muriel, played by Famke Jannsen. There’s a “blood moon” approaching, so she’s kidnapped all the children in the village in the hopes of making her kind immune to fire, because when the blood moon is out is the only time this can be done. Never mind that swords and guns can still do the trick, not to mention decapitation, which works every time.
Writer-director Tommy Wirkola, who made the fun, cult Nazi zombie film “Dead Snow,” completely misses the mark with “Hansel & Gretel.” This should be a silly, silly movie, but instead everybody plays it straight as an arrow, as if the fact that Hansel and Gretel are now bad asses is a cool enough idea on it’s own, even though by the end Gretel has been reduced to a damsel in distress. The idea of Abraham Lincoln killing vampires is a cool idea, but that movie didn’t turn out so hot either.
Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, there’s an expectation that “Hansel & Gretel” will be stupid, at least in a fun way. But it’s not. It’s just stupid. Running a brisk 88 minutes, there’s just enough dialogue between characters before another tepid action sequence begins to keep things somewhat coherent, except the post-conversion 3-D makes every image fuzzy around the edges, so even if the film did jive nobody would be able to tell. In hindsight that was probably the filmmaker’s intentions to hide the fact that they produced a massive dud.
Originally slated for release in 2012, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” was dumped into the movie graveyard that is January for a reason. As Renner says, “whatever you do, don’t eat the candy.” That’s sage advice.