A tipoff to the off-kilter portrayal of the church that mars "Red Riding Hood" (Warner Bros.)—an uninvolving update of the classic fairy tale—comes when an attendant gravely announces the arrival on the scene of "His Eminence, Father Solomon."
Such an ecclesiastical gaffe might be forgiven with a smile, did not Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) shortly turn out to be a cynical, sensual inquisitor. A priest renowned for laying lycanthropes low, he has come to the imaginary medieval village of Daggerhorn, where we lay our scene, to rid it of its resident werewolf.
(You can almost hear the pitch meeting: "He's not just a wolf, he's a werewolf!")
Said creature—long held in check by the townsfolk's offering of a chained pig for him to devour every full moon—has lately returned to the rampage, with fatal consequences for the sister of the titular maiden (Amanda Seyfried) who here goes by the name Valerie.
Poor Valerie's life is complicated enough without marauding monsters to worry about. As the opening scenes reveal, she is caught in a love triangle with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez)—the youth she has loved since childhood—in one corner, and Henry (Max Irons)—scion of the richest family in town to whom she has been unwillingly betrothed—in the other.
Valerie, needless to say, lives only for romance, but her more practical-minded parents Suzette (Virginia Madsen) and Cesaire (Billy Burke) think hubby Henry will put food on the table. Where is a girl to turn for solace? Why to Grandmother's (Julie Christie) house, of course.
Father Solomon, meanwhile, has infected Daggerhorn with paranoia by announcing to the assembled citizenry that the wolf-man is no stranger, but someone in their very midst.
This might have been the departure point for an interesting study in mutual suspicion, along the lines of Arthur Miller's anti-McCarthy allegory, "The Crucible."
Instead, Father Solomon busies himself torturing a defenseless half-wit before setting his prosecutorial sights on Valerie, after deciding the girl in the harlot-colored hood—who, it turns out, can communicate with his beastly adversary—is a witch.
Peter and Henry put their rivalry aside and struggle gallantly to spring her from Solomon's clutches. (Even so, one doubts the appearance, anytime soon, of T-shirts reading "Camp Peter" or "Camp Henry.")
Though screenwriter David Leslie Johnson is to be commended for turning out a script virtually devoid of objectionable language, he has included a scene where only chance intervenes to prevent the physical consummation of Valerie and Peter's bond.
As directed by Catherine Hardwicke, moreover, the glum proceedings are low on entertainment value or emotional impact. As for the complexities of church history embodied in Father Solomon's problematic persona, while well-grounded adults may be counted on to sort them through, they make this "Twilight" wannabe totally unsuitable for its targeted teen audience.
The film contains a skewed treatment of Catholicism, brief nongraphic premarital sexual activity and moderate but sometimes gory violence. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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