Catherine Hardwicke tries to transfer her panting pretty young things “Twilight” style to “Red Riding Hood,” a werewolf WITHOUT the vampires fantasy aimed at that magical PG-13 audience.
And for all the heaving bosoms, the big-eyed flirtation and the cool fairytale hair products, it doesn’t work.
Amanda Seyfried has the title role. She is Valerie, who wears the scarlet hood Grandma (Julie Christie) made for her, dodging in and out of the almost-enchanted forest around her village of Daggerhorn. For generations, a werewolf has been taking livestock offered as sacrifice by the frightened townsfolk.
But Valerie’s sister is killed and all bets are off. The men, including two competing for Valerie’s affection, set out to kill the wolf. The weak-kneed local priest (Lukas Haas) sends for a specialist -- Father Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon arrives with a team of medieval commandos, riding in an armored coach, followed by a hollow bronze elephant-shaped torture cooker. Hunting for a werewolf in the woods is a waste of time, Father Solomon intones. The wolf is in their ranks.
“There’s a big bad wolf, and someone has to stop it,” he tells his children, to calm them. He’s not worried about calming the villagers: “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
Solomon preaches paranoia and Valerie looks into every face with growing suspicion, if not terror. Terror would have been good, but Seyfried plays this Red Riding as a somewhat fearless tomboy. Girlfriend keeps a knife in her knickers.
That’s handy, because the wolf might be Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), her childhood beau. Or maybe it’s Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), the “rich” blacksmith’s son her mother (Virginia Madsen) wants her to marry. Then again, there’s the moment when she tells her granny, “What big TEETH you have.” And Red Riding’s dad is also Bella’s dad from “Twilight” (Billy Burke). Try to pretend that’s not eyebrow-raising.
“Orphan” screenwriter David Leslie Johnson incorporates a few “big bad wolf” gags that fall utterly flat here. The dialog is cut-and-paste “Promise me you’ll be careful” pabulum and the like. Hardwicke bathes her characters in the comfy backlit glow of a glamor photo, but none of the performances pop off the screen. Young Irons stands out as almost amateurish, never knowing quite how to convey what’s on the page onto his face. Even the reliably hammy Oldman seems lost without having better lines to say or scenes to play.
But Seyfried and Fernandez click as a couple and Hardwicke showcases them to good effect. The woodsy, realistic fantasy setting is striking, as is the resemblance between Madsen, Christie and Seyfried, who really could be from one big beautiful blonde family. And the fights, though predictably structured and shot, pay off.
Remembering her earlier films “thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown” and “The Nativity Story,” and hearing of how Hardwicke was shown the door from the super-lucrative “Twilight” film franchise she launched, makes one wish better things for one of the few successful female filmmakers in Hollywood. But her “Red Riding Hood” is far more grim than “Grimm,” and not nearly as much fun as it should have been.