“Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”: Po-Faced “Comedy”

Whatever else you can say about this movie, it has a thematic integrity other literary mashups lack. Jane Austen's characters never encountered zombies or sea monsters, and Lincoln never battled vampires (probably!), but Hansel and Gretel totally killed a witch. So it has that going for it. Dead Snow director Tommy Wirkola's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters clearly intends to be a goofy, anachronistic lark, and some of the more self-aware comedic moments (such as the first encounter with a fanboy) might work well as standalone SNL sketches, which probably has a lot to do with the presence of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers. But for a movie which just wants to have fun, the leads take it too seriously. The usually reliable Jeremy Renner never works up the gusto his smartass Hansel requires, and Gemma Arterton's Gretel just seems bored. Her strong resemblance to Cobie Smulders makes it easy to imagine how much more fun Smulders would have been in the role — and, for that matter, Renner has always looked like a toned Patton Oswalt. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, starring Patton Oswalt and Cobie Smulders? Oh, what might have been. In the meantime, for a much more satisfying cinematic riff on the fairy tale, check out Matthew Bright's Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby. Seriously.

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