Catherine Hardwicke, the director of "Twilight," is back with another not-so-thinly-veiled sexcapade posing as myth. "Red Riding Hood" stars Amanda Seyfried as Valerie, a doe-eyed maiden from olden times whose village has been enduring an uneasy pact with the local werewolf. Each full moon they offer up an animal sacrifice, but when Valerie's sister is mortally mauled, the villagers cry foul and form a werewolf posse. They're in for a surprise, even if we aren't.
As in "Twilight," our heroine is torn, almost literally, between two men. Valerie loves Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), who looks as if he could easily morph into a werewolf, but she is being coaxed into an arranged marriage with the poetically puppyish Henry (Max Irons). When notorious werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) is hired by the villagers to vanquish the beast, he offers up the unpleasant tidbit that the werewolf lives as a human among them.
Oldman makes a four-course dinner out of the scenery with enough slash and burn to leave you wondering if he is vying with Nicolas Cage for the title of filmdom's biggest hambone.
Once the good/bad father drops this bombshell, "Red Riding Hood" turns into a grisly whodunit. Hardwicke and her screenwriter David Johnson make a point of singling out practically every villager with a speaking part as possible werewolf material. Even Valerie was looking a bit shaggy around the edges.
The werewolf's identity, when finally revealed, is not such a big deal because the steps leading up to the revelation aren't terribly logical. What should have been an "Aha!" moment is more like "Whatever."
The real commercial draw here, of course, is the "Twilight"-ish triangle consisting of Valerie and her dueling beaus. Since I thought "Twilight" was more hoot than hot, this watered down derivation of that film left me even colder.
Hardwicke tries to fob it off as a daring exercise in fairy-tale subversion – a children's fable for adults, or, to be more accurate, young adults. But the sexual subtext to famous fairy tales isn't exactly news. (It certainly wasn't to Freud or Bruno Bettelheim.) Does Hardwicke think she's being daring by dropping the "Little" from "Little Red Riding Hood"?
With the exception of Oldman, who at least is entertaining, and Julie Christie, who has a small role as Valerie's hippie-ish grandmother, the acting in this film is execrable. Even the werewolf, who has a few growly lines, gives a bad performance.
In commercial terms, none of this may matter. Audiences looking for another "Twilight" – and you know who you are – will probably line up for this one, too. I hope not. Just when you think you've finished with one of these annoying franchises, another one pops up to plague you. Grade: C- (Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality.)