Ladies and gentlemen, it's "The Hannibal Lecter Show": He smirks, he snarls, he plays sadistic pranks and he even does funny voices! A nearly scene-for-scene remake of Michael Mann's hypnotic MANHUNTER (1986) assertions that it "reimagines" Thomas Harris' seminal psychological thriller notwithstanding this prequel to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) and HANNIBAL (2001) offers fans extra helpings of Anthony Hopkins's popular serial-killer schtick.
FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) has a gift for stalking psychopaths and has been consulting with psychiatrist, bon vivant, patron of the arts and gourmet cook Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) on a particularly difficult case. During an impromptu late-night consultation, Will suddenly realizes the awful truth: Lecter himself is the killer. In the ensuing struggle, both are grievously wounded, and Lecter winds up incarcerated in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Following an arduous recovery physical and mental Graham retires to Florida to live quietly with his wife, Molly (Mary-Louise Parker), and their small son. Flash-forward to the mid-'80s: Will is lured back into the game by his old boss, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), who needs help finding the "Tooth Fairy," who's just murdered and mutilated two entire families, one month apart. If he sticks to his pattern, they have approximately three weeks before he strikes again. As the pursuers ramp up their investigation, their prey (Ralph Fiennes) is sinking rapidly into a swamp of murderous delusions rooted in childhood abuse and shaped by William Blake's proto-Symbolist painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun." The link between the hunters and the hunted: Lecter, who's corresponding with the killer and playing head games with Graham.
Though Lecter is a minor character in the novel and the original film (though MANHUNTER's Brian Cox imbues every one of his under 10 minutes of screen time with understated malevolence), screenwriter Ted Tally and director Brett Ratner beef up his role to obscene proportions. So what if Hopkins's overripe delivery and Grand Guignol tomfoolery (the same ham-bone antics that earned him an Oscar) turn Lecter's every insinuating remark into a laugh line? Fans eat it up, reveling in the ghoulish giggles. And despite rumors that computer effects would be used to make the 64-year-old Hopkins appear younger, his age is evident and further undermines Lecter's air of menace. Though truer to the source in some details, this workmanlike version of Harris' 1981 novel never approaches the seductive spookiness of MANHUNTER, and without the top-notch cast it would be indistinguishable from hundreds of pedestrian serial-killer pictures that clog video store shelves. Curiously, director of photography Dante Spinotti shot both MANHUNTER and RED DRAGON; without Mann's distinctive sensibility guiding him, Spinotti's cinematography is efficient rather than eerily expressive. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh