Witch hunt or Wild Goose Chase?

Watching Hansel & Gretel is like trying to follow a trail of breadcrumbs

An R-rated horror action comedy fairy tale—how’s that for genre bending?

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is more Gatling guns and grenades than the Brothers Grimm. It takes the kidnapped kiddies into adulthood, where they’ve parlayed their fame at cooking a witch’s goose into a business. Got a witch problem? Call H & G, the extermination experts.

High-concept pitch or no, the movie doesn’t really work. They were shooting for sort of a witch-hunting Zombieland, an F-bomb-riddled Van Helsing packed with comical anachronisms—a Bavarian forest past with witch trials, pump shotguns and primitive stun guns, where bottles of milk have woodcut pictures of missing children on the labels.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) show up just as the village of Augsburg is about to burn a redhead. “Gingers” were a favorite target of witch hunters. Hansel shrugs this barbaric crime off, but Gretel insists that the locals need “evidence.” That puts them in conflict with the sheriff (Peter Stormare), who can’t get a handle on their “witch plague” and the missing children who come with it. H & G have been hired to do what he cannot.

It isn’t long after Hansel mutters “anyplace we can get a drink in this hellhole?” that the siblings are on the job, chasing lesser witches in pursuit of the Great Witch, played by Famke Janssen as if the makeup is going to do all the acting for her.

And there may be a troll involved.

“Trolls are extra,” Hansel growls, always watching their bottom line.

Hansel and Gretel have a groupie (Thomas Mann), and the woman (Pihla Viitala) they saved from burning in the opening scene wants to repay the favor to Hansel, a repayment that involves skinny-dipping. And when they’re on the clock, they have all manner of clever gear to help them battle the wand-wielders—pistols, rifles, a semi-automatic crossbow, the aforementioned stun gun (hand-cranked).

Writer-director Tommy Wirkola focuses on the fights, and flings all manner of viscera at the 3-D camera as limbs are whacked off and heads and torsos explode. Less attention was paid to the story, and the dialogue is a tad over-reliant on the random F-word to land a laugh.

The cleverest touch? Hansel’s mania for candy-covered houses is what landed Hansel & Gretel in that witch’s clutches, all those years ago. Now, he carries an ancient hypodermic needle and takes injections to ward off insulin shock.

The moral of the fairy tale? Lay off the candy or a witch’ll get you.

Hansel & Gretel (R) ★☆☆☆☆

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The Imagine Exhibitions Space, in The Venetian, is bidding arrivaderci to Da Vinci—The Genius exhibit this weekend. Slated to end in September, the exhibit was held over by popular demand with good reason. The experience offers visitors a chance to get up close—and in some cases “hands-on”—with life-size constructions of invention ideas taken from his codices, or journals. Interactive stations take visitors further into the mind of the man. A section is devoted to the “Mona Lisa,” including 25 things about “La Gionconda” just recently uncovered.



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