- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

In “Silence of the Lambs,” Hannibal Lecter was many things — cruel, cultured and, of course, carnivorous.

The new “Hannibal Rising” reduces poor Lecter to the ranks of the common, and that’s no place for a classic movie monster.

Author Thomas Harris tries to reboot the Lecter franchise but neglects what drew us to a serial killer in the first place.

Without Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal is just another cannibal with a taste for Chianti. Poor Gaspard Ulliel has the unenviable task of portraying Lecter in his formative years. While Mr. Hopkins oozed menace without so much as arching an eyebrow, Mr. Ulliel is constantly preening for his close-ups, desperate to create something from Mr. Harris’ choppy story.

And let’s not start on Mr. Ulliel’s hammy accent, which sounds closer to an SCTV sketch than Mr. Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance.

It’s the tail end of World War II in Lithuania, and German and Russian forces are fighting around the snowbound home of the Lecter family.

One battle comes right to the family’s doorstep, and Mama and Papa Lecter are killed in the crossfire. A group of mercenaries take shelter in the Lecter home during the chaos and keep young Hannibal and his adorable sister Mischa as hostages.

As one too many flashbacks later reveal, the thugs end up eating Mischa when their food runs out, driving Hannibal to near madness.

The combination of his parents’ death and his sister’s nightmarish end creates the monster known as Hannibal Lecter, a cheat of a background sketch that only hints at the killer to come.

Eight years later, a teenage Hannibal has found a second home with his aunt (Gong Li, saddled with the movie’s silliest lines). But Hannibal has vengeance on the brain. He sharpens his killing skills by torturing a local butcher who insulted his aunt, then turns on the men who gobbled up poor sis.

“Hannibal Rising” lacks a single sequence which leaves us in awe of Hannibal’s guile. He might as well be Freddy without the claw or Jason minus the ax.

We’re left to root for the budding psychopath, especially given that his victims are so conventionally wicked. How much more interesting “Rising” would have been had Hannibal’s prey been conflicted about their evil act, or even remorseful.

The bloodletting takes over the second half of the film, and a subplot involving Hannibal’s interest in his aunt is little consolation for “Rising’s” plodding pace.

Hollywood has proven how ingenious it can be in restarting credible franchises, as with the recent “Casino Royale.”

“Hannibal Rising” shows some franchises should be left as is.

**

TITLE: “Hannibal Rising”

RATING: R (Violence, disturbing imagery, adult language and graphic themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Webber. Screenplay by Thomas Harris, based on his book of the same name.

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

WEB SITE: www.hannibalrising.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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