Geoff Cox’s video review (01.09.11)

WATCHING the tween-friendly makeover of classic folk legend RED RIDING HOOD (12: Warner) is a Grimm experience.

While it’s pretty to look at, and the fairy-tale design is stunning, it’s pretty banal in terms of dialogue and performance levels.

Directed by Twilight’s Catherine Hardwicke, Amanda Seyfried stars as the red-cloaked virgin torn between suitors Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons (son of Jeremy).

Meanwhile, her snowy forest village comes under CGI werewolf attack to the sound of a chill-out music score.

Gary Oldman is the ‘Wolf-Finder General’ in the patchwork plot as neighbours turn against each other in the quest to learn the lycanthrope’s human identity.

There’s a neatly sardonic ending and Julie Christie appears as the most glamorous of grandmothers, but this toothless effort veers between soapy romance and pantomime camp and The Company Of Wolves did it so much better 27 years ago.

> Another well-known fairy tale, Beauty And The Beast, also gets an update in the form of BEASTLY (12: Paramount).

But this adaptation is embarrassingly bad and the title says it all.

A handsome but obnoxious rich kid (Alex Pettyfer) upsets emo witch Mary-Kate Olsen and with the curse “Best embrace the suck” is transformed into a supposedly ugly pierced and tattooed skinhead.

Will Vanessa Hudgens, forced to live in exile via drug dealer threats, say “I love you” within the year to lift the hex?

Despite all the tween bases being touched, there’s little chemistry between the leads and this charmless exercise proves impossible to warm to.

Extra cringe value is provided by a blind tutor (Neal Patrick Harris) and a caring maid (Lisa Gay Hamilton).

On the plus side, and I’m scraping the barrel here, Olsen’s Lady Gaga-esque outfits are a laugh and the film is mercifully short at 82 minutes.

> Kate Hudson has always struggled to break the kooky blonde mould since her Oscar nomination for Almost Famous in 2001.

She has another go in comedy drama A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN (12: Entertainment In Video), but the effect is all a bit wearying.

Hudson plays cancer patient Marley, who is bubbly on the surface yet inside is wallowing in the darkness of uncertainty.

Marley is aggravatingly offhand with her loved ones, including her mother (Kathy Bates), until a blossoming romance with her doctor (Gael Garcia Bernal) forces her to open up.

Hudson struggles to strike the right balance between comedy and tragedy and there are jarring moments of fantasy, with Marley slipping off for conversations with God (Whoopi Goldberg on a cloud), who grants her three wishes.

Although director Nicole Kassell has previously tackled a difficult subject with sensitivity (paedophile drama The Woodsman), her approach here feels patronising, with the comedy stemming mainly from Marley’s relentless sarcasm.

> Gothic horror and sci-fi western are a strange combination in the humourless PRIEST (12: Sony).

Paul Bettany is the titular man of the cloth who breaks his vows to rescue a relative from the fangs of eyeless ghouls while falling foul of a corrupt theocracy.

The mood attempted is supernatural Sergio Leone, but sadly the result on screen is a post-apocalyptic jumble with action stolen from Mad Max.

While the vamp attack on the wasteland town of Jericho is a welcome visual treat, the bleak industrial look elsewhere is flat and depressing.

Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton in TV hit True Blood) barely makes it past the opening that explains the central vampire myth in manga style.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing new here, although the extravagant score at least moves things along.

> Saving the best of this week’s new releases to last, 13 ASSASSINS (15: Artificial Eye) is a superb reworking of a little-seen ‘60s Japanese action film.

It boasts a 40-minute climax that’s sheer martial artistry in all its mud- and blood-spattered glory.

With a touch of the classic Seven Samurai about it, cult director Takashi Miike, who made the much-lauded horror movie Audition, has transcended the film’s humble origins to create a minor masterpiece.

Koji Yakusho stars as the respected samurai charged with assembling a team of assassins to kill a brutally crackpot lord whose ascendancy to the Shogunate would spell disaster and descent into war for a peaceful Japan. It soon becomes clear that the committed warriors are vastly outnumbered and their attempt on his life becomes a suicide mission.

The controlled set-up effectively explores notions of honour and servitude in a time when the bushido era was drawing to a close, giving way to that memorable ending.