Red Dragon
**.3 GM
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker

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Stank-ass cash grab.

I'll preface this review by saying that it might not be a good idea to read a "thriller" book right before you go see the movie made from it, because it takes a good deal of the "thrill" part out of it. But something smells fishy about taking ten years to make a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs and then cranking out a prequel a year later. I guess once they decided that they didn't need Jodie Foster, they also decided they didn't neet any of that quality control. This was directed by Brett Ratner, the guy who did "Rush Hour" for chrissakes. They've discovered the secret to this cash cow - throw Anthony Hopkins on the screen and make him talk all slithery and stare myopically.

Yes. Hannibal Lecter has become a joke. I'm not one of those guys who holds "Manhunter" up as the greatest film ever, either, since I've yet to see it. I was actually looking forward to see how they were going to de-age Hopkins to make him look ten years younger, and I suppose they did a decent enough job, having not seen "Silence" for a while. I didn't quite expect to find every Hannibal scene so annoying, though. This might be partially because there's only one real Hannibal scene in the book, and this was so obviously contrived to kick-stuff as many mugging cannibal jokes into the story as possible. Doing this, however, completely eliminates the compelling inner struggle of FBI agent Will Graham (Norton) as he deals with his own disgust with himself for being able to think like psychotic serial murderers, which is the talent that Crawford (Keitel) keeps dragging him back into the business to utilize - in this case, to try and stop a man with a freak on his back named Francis Dolarhyde (Fiennes) after he slaughters some families in his quest to become The Great Red Dragon in his mind.

Along with the actual character development that Ratner washes his hands of goes the attention that needs to be paid to Dolarhyde. We see nothing about how he became the monster he is - we get a couple of voice-overs and Ed Norton pitying the fool towards the end. There was also a cool bit in the book where Dolarhyde tends to speak the words of "The Dragon" aloud instead of the voice remaining quietly in his addled brain, and I would have liked to have seen that done, although having only one side of an insane mental conversation has its merits as well. I just think Fiennes would have been able to pull the former off rather well.

Let me try and accentuate the positive for a moment. Norton and Fiennes give good performances despite not being given as much to do as they should have, as does Philip Seymour Hoffman as the scuzzbag reporter Freddy Lounds, and Emily Watson is winning as Reba, the blind co-worker of Dolarhyde who unwittingly falls for him, unable to detect his insanity. I also think I like the changed confrontation between Graham and Dolarhyde, because I wasn't that hip on the by-the-numbers thriller-blueprint finale of the book. This one seems a bit more relevant and sneaks in some of the character bits that had been cast aside earlier, although it isn't quite enough to make up for their absence throughout the film.

And now back to the negative. I hadn't realized how much damage Hannibal had done to my appreciation of the character, but damn if I didn't roll my eyes through every Lecter scene - or if not that, I'm rolling them now as I reflect on them. Much like The Fonz becoming annoying and ridiculous when overexposed, Hannibal Lecter is a collection of mannerisms with redundant speech patterns and a couple of neat tricks. I wouldn't be surprised if "Hannibal 4: Hannibaler" has him smacking a jukebox to get it to play selections from "La Boheme." I also kept waiting for Graham's relationship with Molly (Parker) to get deeper, and it never did, which also robbed the story of some of its interesting business. Also, if you're trying to end your film on a creepy, foreboding note, playing creepy music over an idyllic shot of the family literally sailing off into the sunset won't cut it. Ye gods, was Danny Elfman's score just a generic collection of stingers or what?

Perhaps I was predisposed to spit upon this rather annoying stank-ass cash grab after "Hannibal" displayed so obviously that quality was not job one for this franchise anymore, and perhaps knowing the story beforehand spoiled any suspense I may have had. However, I didn't think the book was any great shakes, and the movie is even worse. It's not awful, though, as much as I may make it sound that way. It's just nowhere near its predecessor. There must not be another.

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