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HANNIBAL RISING (*)

Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by: Peter Webber
Written by: Thomas Harris, adapted from novel: "Behind the Mask"
Starring:
Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, Rhys Ifans
Running time: 117 minutes Released: 02/09/07
Rated R f
or strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references.
"...nothing in it vanquishes the sensation that we're being sold something superfluous -- like a service contract for a carton of eggs."
Other than those likely to inherit a bit of Thomas Harris' estate, is there really anyone interested in perpetuating the story of Hannibal Lecter?

Harris first imagined the Luciferian physician with the delicate manners and taste for human flesh in the 1981 novel "Red Dragon," which was filmed five years later as "Manhunter" (with Brian Cox as Lecter). But it took the 1987 novel and, especially, the 1991 film "The Silence of the Lambs" to make the character a permanent part of our collective psyche. Anthony Hopkins hissed and insinuated his way to an Oscar in the role, which he reprised in two lucrative follow-ups: the baroque sequel "Hannibal" and a workmanlike remake of "Red Dragon."

For anyone except the people who sell Harris cars and wine, that might have been enough: a trilogy about an immortal villain who ranks with Satan, Iago, Dracula, and Freddy Krueger in the pantheon of imagined bad guys.

But no. Harris couldn't let Lecter be, and so "Hannibal Rising," a novel revealing just how the monstrous Dr. Lecter got to be that way. And, as surely as a dog's feast of a box of Oreos is followed by somebody's having to clean the floor, here's the movie.

Directed by Peter Webber ("The Girl With the Pearl Earring"), "Hannibal Rising" teems with blood and gore, and actors with ridiculous accents, and absurd conveniences of plot, and dialogue funnier than that in most contemporary comedies (probably unintentional, but it's hard to say for sure).

We start in 1944, when young Hannibal's family home is under siege by marauding Nazis and Lithuanian locals (led by Rhys Ifans) conscripted to do the Germans' especially dirty work. In quick order, the elder Lecters are dead, the kids are captured by the Lithuanians, and young Hannibal watches in horror as his beloved younger sister, Mischa, is eaten by the starving bad guys.

Jump forward a decade or so to France, whence Hannibal (now played by Gaspard Ulliel) has fled in search of an uncle. Alas, the fellow is dead. But he is survived, conveniently, by a beautiful widow (Gong Li) who, conveniently, teaches Hannibal swordsmanship.
As he incubates a taste for cutting folks apart, Hannibal nurses a thirst for revenge on the monsters who devoured Mischa. The majority of the film tracks his efforts to find and destroy them.

Ulliel ("The Brotherhood of the Wolf," "A Very Long Engagement") cuts a striking figure, with jet black hair, a devilish chin and a dimple on one cheek that seems partly a scar and partly a mocking third eye winking its bearer's heartless intent. He tries gamely to create a character who could morph into the stolid, diabolical Hopkins -- he speaks slowly from beneath hooded, staring eyes, for instance -- but his work never approaches, say, Robert De Niro's brilliant reverse engineering of Marlon Brando's Don Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II."

It's a handsome film, but the pace is continually gummy and the set-ups stiff and artificial. Most crucially, nothing in it vanquishes the sensation that we're being sold something superfluous -- like a service contract for a carton of eggs. Ultimately, neither the director nor the star can be blamed for the obvious reality that a commercially motivated enterprise like "Hannibal Rising" never had a chance of getting off the ground.

HANNIBAL RISING 2007 MGM Distribution Company, The Weinstein Company.
All Rights Reserved

Review 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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