Tuesday, April 5, 2011
2011 in general and the weekly viewing of films in particular have taught me a valuable lesson: there are many different kinds of terrible movies. The Eagle may be incompetently scripted, but it’s degrees of quality better than the immoral (The Lincoln Lawyer), the amoral (The Mechanic), and the thunderously boring (Battle: Los Angeles). There are interesting failures (The Adjustment Bureau), and there are hilarious trainwrecks (Country Strong), but there are also totally harmless low-hanging fruits like Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. If bad were the necessary and sufficient condition for critical drubbing, we’d be here all night wailing on goofy pieces of trash that just want to be goofy pieces of trash. Red Riding Hood is a Hallmark channel TV movie in the vein of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, but it’s hardly trying to do more than give tween girls an empowering fairy tale. And it’s a damn sight better at that than Sucker Punch.
I’m not exaggerating about the production values. When it inevitably airs on pay-cable, you’ll think you’re watching the defunct Pax channel between reruns of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Star Trek: Voyager. The plot is best described as peasant girl fanfic meets choose-your-own-adventure with all the laughable twists that entails as our classic fairy tale becomes a whodunit enlivened by witches and talking werewolves and Gary Oldman practically begging to be resurrected for the final Harry Potter movie. Like Oldman, some Names, notably Botox Queen Virginia Madsen, sink into the wooden mis-en-scene like quicksand. But Amanda Seyfried somewhat surprisingly emerges unscathed as our heroine, perhaps because she’s no Bella Swan damsel in distress, and toward the end she commits to a surprising act of violence that almost has us whooping, “You go girl!” Almost.
All of this intrigue and mystery—everyone is a red herring less because of careful characterization than the desperate need to keep us guessing—ultimately comes down to Seyfried’s romantic turmoil, a solipsism you expect from the tween picture. You get the impression Catherine Hardwicke has a refrigerator covered in phrases like “the stormy waters of a woman’s heart.” But you don’t expect Red Riding Hood to grow a major subplot about sacrificing liberty in the name of security, like The Dark Knight but with integrity. It’s paint-by-numbers, but it’s there, and it doesn’t broach the lovely territory of “just this once” that’s tarring the American Superhero Executive. I’m not saying it’s a successful portrait of a young girl’s romanticism—it’s not—but it has no designs on Great Art either. Like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, it’s just a silly little picture about growing up, clunky and volatile and very occasionally charming. But I’d take it over the little boy pictures of 2011 any day.