This review was written for the theatrical release of "Hannibal Rising."
The fifth (and hopefully final) stop on the Lecter circuit, "Hannibal Rising" attempts to show the man behind the muzzle by delving into his formative years -- with risible results.
On paper, there might have been something to the notion of how an innocent young boy could grow up into a notorious serial killer with a taste for fava beans and a nice Chianti to go along with that insatiable appetite for human flesh.
Unfortunately, in the hands of director Peter Webber it doesn't translate into a particularly tasty movie. Actually, it's all quite a mess, with awkward performances, worse dialogue and a painfully protracted running time conspiring against any chance of enjoyment, even in a so-bad-it's-good guilty pleasure way.
And even without the inevitably damaging word-of-mouth, it seems pretty unlikely that this installment of "Hannibal" would have risen to the occasion at the boxoffice. With star attraction Anthony Hopkins sitting this one out, the European production should hang around about as long as that ill-fated recent vampire import, "Blood and Chocolate."
Receiving his first screenplay credit, Thomas Harris, who penned the best-sellers "Red Dragon," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal," travels all the way back to Eastern Europe at the end of World War II to show just exactly where things started to go wrong for young master Lecter (played as a child by Aaron Thomas).
Having lost his parents and his younger sister in a succession of violent atrocities perpetrated by Nazis and even nastier war criminals, Hannibal goes on to face further indignities by being forced to live in the Soviet orphanage that occupies what was once his spacious family home.
Now grown into a young adult played by Gaspard Ulliel ("A Very Long Engagement"), Hannibal ultimately escapes to the Paris home of his uncle's widow, the striking but enigmatic Lady Murasaki (Gong Li), and enrolls in medical school. But he soon realizes that his paralyzing nightmares won't stop until he exacts vengeance on the men who made his childhood such a living hell.
While Webber received acclaim for his 2003 feature debut, "Girl With a Pearl Earring," the very contained, deliberately posed approach that worked so effectively in that film just doesn't cut it when it comes to determining what's eating Hannibal Lecter.
Things go from merely strained to loopy when the action transitions to what is supposed to be France, and his exposure to Gong's odd character sets the stage for an interlude that can best be described as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cannibal," before our boy starts going about his grisly business.
Harris' uncomfortably stiff dialogue is made even more so as delivered by an extensive cast of heavily accented actors, while French lead Ulliel offers precious little in terms of vocal or physical cues that would suggest he'd one day mature into Anthony Hopkins.
It might be a good time to get a head start on polishing those Golden Razzies.
MGM/The Weinstein Co.
A Dino De Laurentiis presentation in association with
Quinta Communications and Ingenious Film partners
Director: Peter Webber
Screenwriter: Thomas Harris
Producers: Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis
Tarak Ben Ammar
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Allan Starski
Editors: Pietro Scalia, Valerio Bonelli
Costume designer: Anna Sheppard
Music: Ilan Eshkeri, Shigeru Umebayashi
Hannibal Lecter: Gaspard Ulliel
Lady Murasaki: Gong Li
Grutas: Rhys Ifans
Inspector Popil: Dominic West
Kolnas: Kevin McKidd
Dortlich: Richard Brake.
Running time -- 121 minutes
MPAA rating: R