Catherine Hardwicke tries to transfer her panting, pretty young things Twilight-style to Red Riding Hood, a werewolf-without-vampires fantasy aimed at that magical PG-13 audience.
And for all the heaving bosoms, the big-eyed flirtation and the cool fairy-tale hair products, it doesn't work.
Amanda Seyfried has the title role. She is Valerie, who wears the scarlet hood that Grandma (Julie Christie) made for her, dodging in and out of the almost-enchanted forest around her village of Daggerhorn. For generations, a werewolf has taken livestock offered as sacrifice by the frightened townsfolk. "We've kept the peace," the locals say as they tie up another pig on another full moon.
But Valerie's sister is killed, and all bets are off.
The men, including two competing for Valerie's affection, set out to kill the wolf. The weak-kneed priest (Lukas Haas) sends for a specialist, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who arrives with a team of medieval commandos, riding in an armored coach, followed by a hollow bronze elephant-shaped torture cooker. Hunting for a werewolf in the woods is a waste of time, Father Solomon intones. The wolf is in their ranks.
"You have no idea what you're dealing with," he tells the villagers.
Solomon preaches paranoia, and Valerie looks into every face with growing suspicion, if not terror. Terror would have been good, but Seyfried plays this Red Riding as a somewhat fearless tomboy. Girlfriend keeps a knife in her knickers.
That's handy, because the wolf might be Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), her childhood beau. Or maybe it's Henry (Max Irons, son of Jeremy), the "rich" blacksmith's son her mother (Virginia Madsen) wants her to marry. Then again, there's the moment when she tells her granny, "What big teeth you have." And Red Riding's dad also is Bella's dad from Twilight (Billy Burke). Try to pretend that's not eyebrow-raising.
Screenwriter David Leslie Johnson incorporates a few "big bad wolf" gags that fall flat. The dialogue is cut-and-paste "promise me you'll be careful" pabulum.
Hardwicke bathes her characters in the comfy backlit glow of a glamor photo, but none of the performances pops off the screen. Young Irons is almost amateurish, never knowing quite how to convey what's on the page onto his face. Even reliably hammy Oldman seems lost without having better lines or scenes.
But Seyfried and Fernandez click as a couple, and Hardwicke showcases them to good effect. The woodsy, realistic fantasy setting is striking, as is the resemblance among Madsen, Christie and Seyfried, who really could be from one big beautiful blonde family. And the fights, although predictably structured and shot, pay off.
Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood is far more grim than Grimm, and not nearly as much fun as it should have been.