It seems not even fairy tales are safe from the "Twilight" infection -- mashing fantasy/horror elements with soap-opera romance in hopes of startling and stimulating teenage viewers.
But "Red Riding Hood" falls beneath even the low cinematic standards set by "Twilight." The unfortunate combination of a hackneyed script and inexperienced acting makes the film feel like the big-budget version of a bad high-school play. Although wide-eyed ingenue Amanda Seyfried and the always impressive Gary Oldman do their thespian best, the film quickly spirals from silly to absurd to "I can't believe I just wasted 10 bucks."
In the story, a vicious werewolf has tormented the residents of a medieval village for the better part of two decades. The terrified villagers regularly offer up sacrificial livestock to appease the mysterious beast, but when it kills a human girl the residents are spurred to action. Village holy man Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) enlists the aid of werewolf hunter Brother Solomon (Oldman), who plans to end the wolf's violent reign.
Stuck in the middle is Valerie (Seyfried), the gorgeous daughter of a local lumberjack (Billy Burke as Cesaire) and secretive housewife (Virginia Madsen as Suzette). Valerie is desperately in love with the dark and brooding Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a lifelong friend, but Suzette is pushing her to marry noble blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). Valerie also has an unusual connection with the werewolf, who Solomon claims could be anyone in the village. Father Auguste, Peter, Cesaire, Henry -- even Valerie's creepy grandmother (Julie Christie) -- are all suspects in Solomon's aggressive wolf hunt.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, whose career launched so promisingly with the intelligent, edgy pictures "Thirteen" (2003) and "Lords of Dogtown" (2005), stumbles badly with "Hood." Almost immediately the viewer is pulled out of the story as Hardwicke favors visual aesthetics over realism. It snows throughout the film, yet most of the characters don clothing that wouldn't keep one warm on an overcast day in San Francisco. Peter's purposely tousled hair is obviously gelled, making us wonder if there's a Paul Mitchell salon hidden somewhere in the archaic village.
Fernandez scowls his way through the film like an arrogant jock who just played a prank on some unsuspecting geek. His acting skills obviously need polishing, and as the male lead he forces viewers to look elsewhere for compelling material. The film's score is actually very good and the set design deserves some credit, but the highlights end there. Intrigue about the wolf's identity proves somewhat interesting until the lackluster denouement inspires more chuckles than shock and applause.
Teenagers may find some enjoyment in this "Twilight"-meets-"The Village" offspring, but average moviegoers can pull down their hoods and take a nap.