The story didn't end when Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) pushed the witch into the oven in that house made of candy. Not only did it turn the former kidnappees into professional witch hunters, it turned them somewhat world-weary, gave them R-rated potty mouths ("that f***in' candy") and made Hansel diabetic.

It also covered up a secret that you'll see coming if you care to pay attention, one involving the very nature of Hansel and Gretel's obsession with slaughtering child-killing spell-casters. When baddest witch of them all, Muriel (Famke Janssen, who seems to be having a really great time pretending to be in an all-witch metal band), comes along to put their powers to the ultimate test, this secret comes out.

And that's all. That's all they've got.

Obviously, there's interest in this sort of thing on the part of whoever watches Grimm and Once Upon a Time. And that might be part of the reason for this movie's strange affliction. It's flat, generic and muted, yet also clear from momentary sparks of wit and life that somebody tried for something more. I don't know what sort of script co-writer/director Tommy Wirkola handed the studio. I don't know how much cooler it was, how much more violent and profane and smart, how far from the original story he tried to take this. But the final product feels like a coven of people in offices visited the set, were shown the mocked-up candy house and then decided to gut the whole thing and make it safe for theatrical and television sales to other countries where there's lots of censorship.

Whatever comedy existed on paper has been stripped from the screen, so that only Jeremy Renner's sarcastic, annoyed delivery provides a laugh here and there. All movement in the direction of witty irreverence feels blocked. The generic action involves a lot of digital death and witches turning into black shards of glass when decimated, and that was really cool looking in Snow White and the Huntsman, and that's probably the point. But since the secret is really no secret at all, all that's left is the big shootout with Janssen at the end. Cue screamy music over the credits to remind you that you've just watched a film with an "edge."

Only you didn't. You saw a roll of the dice on a franchise, one that hedges its bets at every turn and never makes the leap into capturing your imagination. If it successfully takes your money, the sequels and their resulting attempts to built better diabetes jokes will be all your fault.


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