Director Hardwicke seems mostly interested in ravishing shots featuring Red Riding's long red cloak whipping about her in the wind
Actors aren’t the only ones how suffer from typecasting. Directors can get pigeonholed into certain kinds of movies just as easily.
It’s why, in the old days of the studios, Ernst Lubitsch always made sophisticated comedies with European settings, George Cukor stuck mostly to “women’s pictures” and Howard Hawks excelled at adventure films and breezy comedies starring tough guys and gals.
And that didn’t ease off any as films became even more of a director’s medium in the 1960s and ‘70s, with the rise of the auteurs. In fact, directors even more came to be seen as having a recognizable touch, particularly when examining topics and themes to which they seemed inexorably drawn.
Martin Scorsese, whose first breakout film was 1973’s “Mean Streets,” has returned again and again in succeeding decades to its themes of crime and friendship amidst gritty urban settings. The late French director Claude Chabrol was clearly fascinated by issues of crime and class, which he focused on repeatedly in his elegant thrillers.
Even Ben Affleck, an auteur in the making with two well-received films under his belt (“Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town”), seems to be specializing in crime dramas among the working class in Boston.
Such specialization is not always a good thing. At some point, directors can start to repeat themselves, running dry on fresh inspiration. That’s certainly the case for Catherine Hardwicke with “Red Riding Hood.”
This is Hardwicke’s fifth film and her first since she directed 2009’s “Twilight,” the initial movie in the blockbuster series beloved by tween and teen girls everywhere.
She may be 55 in real life, but she’s in something of a teen rut. All five of her movies, starting with 2003’s disquieting indie, “Thirteen,” have focused on teenagers. Her follow-up, “Lords of Dogtown,” was about teen skateboarders; “The Nativity Story” was about a pregnant teenage Mary; and “Twilight” was about the love a high school student, Bella, has for Edward, a smoldering-eyed classmate who just happens to be a vampire.
“Red Riding Hood” is more of the same, with a special kinship to “Twilight.” We’re in the realm of the supernatural again as screenwriter David Leslie Johnson (“Orphan”) plays off of the classic fairytale.
The setting is a vaguely European rural village during the Middle Ages. Little Red Riding Hood is Valerie (Amanda Seyfried, who mostly acts by widening her eyes to convey fear or apprehension), who has been in love since childhood with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), now a poor woodcutter. Her parents, however, arrange for her to marry the equally hunky Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack), an ironsmith who uses only half as much product in his hair as Peter.
What’s a girl to do when she has to choose between two but and can’t be sure that either isn’t actually the marauding wolf man who is bloodily picking off villagers? Her grandma (Julie Christie, a long way from “Dr. Zhivago” and “Shampoo”) tries to offer comfort, but she has mighty big eyes, too.
Hardwicke has directed all of this with little suspense or subtlety. She seems most interested in composing ravishing shots featuring Valerie’s long red cloak whipping about her in the wind while she walks through snow-covered fields and forests. Pretty, yes, but in a too studied, overly art-directed kind of way.
The acting is so stilted, the extras so annoying (they behave as if they’re in a boisterous beer commercial) and the story so uninvolving, that halfway through you realize you couldn’t care less whodunit.
This one is strictly for teen viewers who can afterward debate endlessly whether they’re on Team Peter or Team Henry or, for that matter, Team Peter or Team Edward. Me, I’m on Team Catherine Hardwicke Needs to Make a Movie with Grown-Ups.