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Red Dragon (R)
Universal Pictures
Official Site
Director: Brett Ratner
Producers: Dino De Laurentiis & Martha De Laurentiis
Written by: Ted Tally
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Heald, Frankie Faison

Rating: out of 5

Somewhere between eating that liver with the fava beans and the chianti and hanging and disemboweling an unfortunate police detective in Florence, Hannibal Lecter became a parody of himself. In the excellent The Silence Of The Lambs, Lecter is a quietly menacing tiger in a cage whose ability to control any situation, even in a plexiglass prison, makes him a grim combination of deadly and fascinating. In the not-so-excellent but still entertaining Hannibal, heís a bemused grandfather type on vacation, with the occasional lapse into less-than-pleasant activities. And now thereís Red Dragon, otherwise known as The Hannibal Variety Hour. Hear Lecter tell jokes, see him fight with knives, watch him prance self-importantly, acting smarter than everyone around him. Itís enough to make you wish for Buffalo Bill to appear in drag and sing for us.

Red Dragon is based on the Thomas Harris novel of the same name, the first Lecter book, which was already made into a movie in 1986 in the form of the critically lauded Manhunter. While many critics and fans consider that original film to be superior even to Silence, to me it felt too much like watching a high school stage production of Hamlet. The characters were too broadly drawn, the interactions between actors too rehearsed, and the story too much at the service of showboating. So with Red Dragon, I had hopes of something better. I mean, look at that cast! And Ted Tally, the guy who won an Oscar for his script for The Silence Of The Lambs, is back as the screenwriter.

But one look at whoís directing, and all hopes can be laid to rest. Itís Brett Ratner, whose claim to fame is unleashing Chris Tucker on a world that didnít do anything to deserve it, with Money Talks and the Rush Hour movies. And Ratner makes mincemeat out of Red Dragon. Where Silence was spare and elegant, Red Dragon is high-octane and crass. Where Hannibal was wickedly funny, Red Dragon is often just silly. And where Manhunter was only marginally annoying, Red Dragon takes the word ďirritatingĒ to a new level. Ratner and Tally have set out to make a crowd-pleaser that doubles as a prestige film. But they leave out both the darkly comic tone of the novel and the insidious dread that makes it so affecting. In the end, the film ends up feeling like one of those Eric Roberts movies that you come across on HBO at 3 a.m. while crunching on goldfish crackers and pop tarts. Instead of trying to engage the audience, the filmmakers seem to just want to put on a show thatíll rake in that money. Thereís no aspiration beyond immediate profit. Itís a discredit to the aim of Harrisís novels, which illuminate the darkest motivations of the human animal and show how man justifies the evil that he does.

As Will Graham, Edward Norton tries his damnedest to do justice to the Will Graham of Harrisís novel. But the role is so underwritten that any attempts on Nortonís part to make Graham interesting get no help, so the character ends up pretty bland and uninvolving. Hannibal Lecter needs an adversary who can match each move he makes in his little psychological games. As Clarice Starling in Silence, Jodie Foster lived up to what Lecter needs, artfully giving Clarice the studied intensity necessary to take on the Cannibal. Norton isnít able to do this with Will Graham, and itís a shame, because there is a definite imbalance on the good vs. evil scale in Red Dragon.

But itís not all bad. Ralph Fiennes is truly creepy and actually a little touching as Francis Dollarhyde, a serial killer who believes that he is the human manifestation of a spiritual being, and Emily Watson is heartbreaking as Reba McClane, a blind photo developer who has an affair with Dollarhyde. Watson has one of the most interesting faces in movies today. Her wide facial features crystallize her emotions and force you to acknowledge what her characters are going through, and she gives Reba a flair of wit and grace that mask her insecurities. Itís the best performance in the film.

I wish I could say that of Anthony Hopkins. In Silence, he was nothing short of brilliant. The unblinking eyes, the rod-straight posture, the carefully measured speechóall these were ways that he made Lecter the quintessential movie villain. He didnít just inhabit his environment; he dominated it, in the quietest, most unassuming way possible. But with Red Dragon, you donít get that impression. There are bits of retread, and a (un)healthy dose of self-parody mixed in for good measure. Itís not at all effective because, yes, even Hopkins is phoning this in. Heís said before in interviews that he can play Lecter in his sleep. Well, in Red Dragon, heís asleep. And so am I.

óCole Sowell


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