I donít know where it is that movie characters go after they die but, wherever it is, Jamie Kennedyís character from the SCREAM movies is laughing his ass off in an I-told-you-so sort of way about HANNIBAL. The rules of a sequel that Kennedy expounded on in SCREAM 2 all come into play here ómore gore, a higher body count, bigger special effects, etc. Does this mean HANNIBAL is bad? Not necessarily, depending on your expectations.
As the title suggests, this film focuses more on the other half of the duo than SILENCE OF THE LAMBS did, but uses Clarice as a starting point before catching up with Hannibal the Cannibal (Hopkins). Clarice (Moore) suffers a fall from grace in the FBI after a botched sting operation forces her to use questionable force that could mean bad publicity for the bureau. Always the lone wolf and a woman, Clarice doesnít receive the support of her supervisors, but is saved by an unlikely benefactor named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, in an uncredited, though large role).
Verger was the fourth of Hannibalís victims and the only one to survive one of his attacks. Now confined to a wheelchair and darkness in his stately manor, Verger paws over Hannibal memorabilia heís collected, plotting a fiendish revenge for the man who crippled him. Using his money and power, he gets Clarice reassigned to the Lecter case, thinking that her presence will help draw Hannibal out.
We then catch up with Lecter, now living in Florence and on the eve of being voted curator of the Palazzo Vecchio. Lecterís presence and the mysterious disappearance of the previous curator draw the attention of an inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giannini, truly the best performance in the film). Pazziís greed gets the better of him and instead of turning Lecter over to the FBI, he decides to turn him over to Verger instead. The movie then becomes a race against time as Clarice and Verger both try to bring Hannibal in firstóVerger to feed him to the pigs, Clarice to return him to captivity.
HANNIBAL has its good moments, but itís strung together with a lot of downtime and Ridley Scott doesnít do near as well as Jonathan Demme did building suspense. Part of the problem is that the characterizations are so flat and two-dimensional. Julianne Moore does what she can with the role that Jodie Foster made famous. These are big shoes to fill and Moore does her darnedest, but the source material relegates her to a role without the depth the character had in the first movie. In essence, through much of the movie sheís a deus ex machina until a third-act finale when they try unsuccessfully to recapture the chemistry the two characters had in the first movie.
Ray Liotta plays a Justice Department sleaze whoís playing both sides against the middle. Heís bad because he hits on Clarice with bad language and is mean to dogs. Frankie Faison makes a couple of brief appearances as Barney, an orderly from the now-defunct institute where Hannibal had been locked up. Barneyís been selling Hannibalís wares to the highest bidders on eBay. Heís good because he picks up a dead pigeon to take it to his home so that other pigeons can mourn the loss. With characters like these, itís difficult to care if they die or how.
None of the actors have great material to work with but some pull great performances out of their roles. Giancarlo Giannini manages to bring a spectacularly vulnerable element to his role and gives it dimensions similar roles in other movies have never had. Oldman and Hopkins take the opposite tack, playing more toward the campy comic book element of the proceedings. Oldman oozes filth under layers of make-up and Hopkins enunciates every vowel sound so you can feel his disgust. His Hannibal in this movie is a Hannibal unbound and a bit jazzy.
That campy center that Oldman and Hopkins seem to realize should be this movieís focus is undermined by a self-consciousness of the legacy itís taking on. Thereís enough religious symbolism to choke a pope and none of it is warranted by the campy plot surrounding it or the characters it focuses on. Hannibal as a Christ figure? Come on.
The movie is at its best when Ridley lets the style flow, mostly in the Florentine scenes. A hanging arc of Hannibalís trenchcoat as he turns a corner, an ominous-looking pushcart used for devious purposes lateróthis, and the performances of Oldman, Hopkins, and Giannini, are the great stuff in HANNIBAL because they take familiar material into new territory instead of valiantly defending the legacy of the first film.
My reaction to HANNIBAL is that itís better than the book, a little slow, and very pretty. It could have been worse, but it could have been a whole lot better. See it for the gore and the laughs (intentional as well as un-) but donít expect more SILENCE.