"Red Riding Hood" aims not for little girls who want to hear a fairy tale before they go to sleep at night, but rather for teenage girls who want a soapy melodrama full of angst and hair product - with some supernatural flourishes thrown in, just to make things extra sexy.
Does that sound vaguely familiar to you? It should. "Red Riding Hood" suggests what it might look like if the kids from "Twilight" got dressed up and went to the Renaissance Faire. And that is not a good thing.
Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first "Twilight" movie - which set a record for the biggest opening ever by a female director with nearly $70 million - is working from a script by "Orphan" writer David Leslie Johnson, which takes this classic story and turns it into a medieval love triangle.
Hardwicke's early films, "Thirteen" and "Lords of Dogtown," felt stripped-down and immediate, and they vividly conveyed the restlessness of youth. "Red Riding Hood" sort of hints at that in the character of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who'd rather be with the bad boy she loves than the good guy she's been arranged to marry. She knows that Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a hunky woodcutter, is wrong for her, but she longs to run away with him, rather than live a safe, comfortable life with Henry (Max Irons), a hunky blacksmith.
They all live in a tiny village on the edge of a dark, dangerous forest, where everyone's more on edge than usual following the latest werewolf attack. Hardwicke depicts the place in haunted fashion, with scenery and lighting that often have a misty, ethereal, almost otherworldly glow. But then the set design feels super chintzy, like something you'd see in a theme park. The Big Bad Wolf itself, meanwhile, is rendered with CGI work that looks so distractingly fake and disconnected from the rest of the film, it's hard to take this creature seriously.
The menfolk think they've hunted down the wolf and killed it. Gary Oldman, who's perfectly slimy as a clergyman with questionable ethics, warns them that they're wrong, and that they shouldn't let their guards down just yet. But, of course, they do - with a wild, drunken party, no less - which makes them all even more vulnerable when the wolf strikes again.
Oldman, as Father Solomon, suggests they shouldn't waste their time looking for the wolf outside the village, because he (or she!) lurks among them, hidden in human form. Hence, "Red Riding Hood" becomes a whodunit, with plenty of red herrings. Could it be Peter or Henry? Valerie's mother (Virginia Madsen as a social climber with a secret) or grandmother (Julie Christie as a bohemian outsider)? Maybe it's Valerie's dad (Billy Burke, who just happens to play Kristen Stewart's dad in the "Twilight" movies).
The wolf does have a soft spot for Valerie - and who could blame it? She's gorgeous, with the contrast of her porcelain skin, big blue eyes and that striking red hood against the snowy backdrop. But with everyone feeling so paranoid and mistrustful, Valerie's spiritual connection with the wolf makes her a suspect. This is the perfect time for the guys in this love triangle to step up and prove themselves - and they'd probably be shirtless more often if the film didn't take place in winter.
Speaking of body parts, "Red Riding Hood" does trot out the classic what-big-eyes-you-have routine. It's a pretty amusing moment, and it makes you wish the rest of the film had that same sort of knowing sense of humor.
"Red Riding Hood," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality. Running time: 100 minutes.