[MOVIE REVIEW]Latest Hannibal movie leaves bad aftertaste

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[MOVIE REVIEW]Latest Hannibal movie leaves bad aftertaste

In any Hannibal Lecter movie, you expect to encounter meat -- liver with fava beans, brain tartare. But in the latest film (actually a retread, but more on that in a moment), the meat in question is ham.

The server of the ham is none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins. In the decade since he first brought the epicure of human epiderm so vividly to life, it's stunning how Hopkins's portrayal of Lecter, everybody's favorite cannibal, has sunk into self-parody.

It's perhaps the nature of monsters: they're at their scariest when we see them least. But after three films, we've all seen this Boogieman and grown overly familiar with him. "Silence of the Lambs" hinted far more than it showed. "Red Dragon," on the other hand, is all about show.

Actually, this is not a Hannibal Lecter story. It's about the empathic FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton). The movie begins in 1980 Baltimore, with Graham working with the then-free (but strangely ponytailed) Lecter. Lecter soon ends up in jail, but not before Graham is so emotionally scarred that he drops out of crime work entirely.

Or as much as he can. Every so often, his superior, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), comes to him for help on extra-difficult serial-killer cases.

This time, it is the tabloid-dubbed "Tooth Fairy" (Ralph Fiennes), an extremely brutal and elaborate killer. Graham comes in to help, just for a couple of days, but soon finds himself drawn far deeper into the case than he imagined.

This is not the first time that the Thomas Harris book "Red Dragon" has been made into a film. Michael Mann of "The Insider" and "Heat" fame first turned this story into a movie in 1986's "Manhunter." Like most of Mann's works, it was a cool, minimalist piece, but certainly engaging in its own way.

That creativity was certainly its doom. It was too different from Jonathan Demme's "Silence of the Lambs" that scared the world in 1991. So "Red Dragon" seeks to right that artistic wrong, as Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") tries to remake the film as close to "Silence" as he can. The result is a pale echo of Demme's film, empty of substance.

For example, the psychology of Graham was a major part of the original story. His gift is the ability to empathize with serial killers, to understand how they think. But that is also his curse, as that ability brings him mentally to an ugly place most people would rather avoid. If you expect to see any of that psychological tension in "Dragon," you are mistaken.

Hopkins chews up the scenery (sorry) with his overacting. Fiennes is much better, but is given little to do. Norton barely seems to act at all. It is an odd mixture.

This isn't a terrible film, just a terribly mediocre one, as gory as it is unnecessary.

by Mark Russell

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