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MOVIE REVIEW: Seeing red: Hardwicke's 'Hood' an unimaginative 'Twilight' ripoff

Special Photo: Warner Bros.
 Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie in “Red Riding Hood.” 

Special Photo: Warner Bros. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie in “Red Riding Hood.” 

Red Riding Hood (PG-13)

2 stars out of 4

Depending on your chosen source and who you believe, Catherine Hardwicke is either one of the most artistically ethical directors in Hollywood or one of its most stubbornly foolish.

After delivering the first installment of the “Twilight” franchise (and with it $400 million at the box office), Hardwicke reportedly told Summit Entertainment she would not “hurry up” the first sequel, which didn’t go over well. They allegedly replied, “Do it now or else” and she chose “else.” Or she was fired. Who knows? At this point, who cares?

Rather than do something substantial like the sublime “Thirteen” or the inspired misfire “Lords of Dogtown” as a follow up, Hardwicke chose a “Twilight” clone — the third such like-minded film released in the last four weeks.

But this is a retelling of the fable “Little Red Riding Hood,” right? How could that be a “Twilight” ripoff? It’s Hollywood, folks. They can do anything they want. There was a wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” and even more of them in “Twilight.” It didn’t take a lot of tweaking — or much imagination — to make one look a lot like the other. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out if the studio had asked Hardwicke and writer David Leslie Johnson to work in a vampire subplot.

“Red Riding Hood” contains just enough of the source material to warrant its modified title but is stuck in a nebulous, demographic netherworld. It is set in what appears to be medieval times but also looks like the wardrobe department adorned the entire cast in period-piece Abercrombie & Fitch threads with the filmmakers having them speak in present day English.

Everyone is photo-shoot ready beautiful without a hair out of place and the backdrops and masks easily double for those on an “Eyes Wide Shut” set. Hardwicke shoots everything in light focus so even the sanitized and infrequent blood spattering looks fashionable and sexy. It’s not visceral, threatening or engaging enough for adults or teens and is far too subliminally risqué for children. The “Twilight” throngs are likely to be split down the middle.

The movie marks another career miscalculation by lead Amanda Seyfried who plays the title character, aka Valerie. One of the most beautiful and talented young women in film, Seyfrield (save for the guilty pleasure “Chloe”) has yet to attach herself to a production that gets close to allowing her to expand on the promise shown briefly in “Mean Girls.” She seems to take any throwaway role tossed her way without regard to what it could lead to down the road.

Signing on for mere paychecks, past Oscar nominees Virginia Madsen and Gary Oldman — and former winner Julie Christie — are able to do OK with their thinly written supporting characters but must also give up a pound or two of metaphorical/artistic flesh along the way. The most interesting and ironic casting choice comes in the form of Billy Burke.

Hardcore “Twilight” fans will instantly recognize the little known Burke’s name but for those who don’t — he plays the Bella character’s passive, lightweight sheriff father in the “Twilight” franchise. Here Burke plays Valerie’s passive, lightweight, ho-hum father but toward the end is at least given the opportunity to do something a little different and a bit meatier.

In complete fairness to Johnson, he is able to provide a semi-engaging thriller aspect to the otherwise fluff production. Every character with a speaking role — with the exception of Valerie — is suggested to be the Big Bad Wolf at one point or another. If you subscribe to the law of physics that disallows someone to be in more than one place at the same time and pay attention to what’s happening on screen, you’ll be able to figure out the culprit way before the final reveal.

Deciding whether Hardwicke quit or was fired from the “Twilight” cash-cow machine will be much easier after witnessing the ending. Refusing to rush an already planned sequel to an unproven entity was in its way, honorable. But radically changing the ending to a centuries old fable to make room for a possible sequel doesn’t quite jibe with that particular artistic mindset, does it? (Warner Bros.)