RATING |

The tale of Little Red Riding Hood - wandering in the forest, communing with a wolf, having her grandmother chomped to bits and hopping into bed with a lech in a woman's nightgown - it's scary stuff.

But although Catherine Hardwicke's trippy tweenage bodice ripper borrows much from the venerable fable, Red Riding Hood is hardly scary. Funny? Yes. Sexy? For a minute or two (it's rated PG-13 for chomping gore, and for a few lusty throwdowns in the hay). Ridiculous? Most definitely.

With the quavery, saucer-eyed Amanda Seyfried in the title role, Red Riding Hood is set in quaintest Daggerhorn, an alpine burg where the wooden houses stand on stilts and the people stand in medieval hippie couture. Like a vintage Hollywood silent (or Guy Maddin's 1992 cult gem, Careful), events transpire within tight parameters - the village square, the mead hall, a verdant thicket in the woods. There are a few expansive shots of clouds undulating over a sunken valley ringed by mountains, but mostly this is a bunch of actors running to and fro on a dressed-up soundstage. Realism is not high on Hardwicke's list.

What is high on the director's list is riffing on her own megahit, the first Twilight. (Hardwicke had begged off the follow-up, Twilight: New Moon, because the studio wanted it delivered post-haste.) To that end, she has cast Billy Burke, Bella Swan's dad in Twilight, as the father of Seyfried's Valerie, the scarlet-caped heroine. And Hardwicke and her screenwriter have turned the menacing wolf into a werewolf - the creature goes a-stalking when the moon is full - and imbued it, with, well, vampirish characteristics. The beast cannot tolerate daylight, nor holy places, nor silver.

Like Twilight, too, Red Riding Hood offers a love triangle. There is Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a woodcutter's son who has been in love with Valerie (and vice versa) since childhood. And there is Henry (Max Irons), the blacksmith's son, promised to Valerie in an arranged marriage. "I feel like I've been sold," Valerie bristles, adding a dollop of feminist rage to this frothy brew.

The rivalry between scrappy Peter and earnest Henry is intense - all the more so when a werewolf-slayer and his entourage roll into town, informing the trembling citizenry that a lycanthrope walks among them, that on all other nights of the month when the moon is waxing or waning, this creature takes human form. As doubt and paranoia fog up the atmosphere and sinister circumstances ensue, Valerie's affections vacillate from one lad to the other. Team Peter, or Team Henry, anyone?

As Father Solomon, Gary Oldman hams it up royally. He wears a beard, wields a sword, sports silver fingernails (he needs to see the manicurist, though) and makes declarations in vaguely Teutonic tones along the lines of "Your very souls are in danger!" The likable Lukas Haas shambles in front of the lens more than others in the cast, suggesting his presence has significance. Virginia Madsen is Valerie's mother, holding on to her own dark secrets, and Julie Christie, looking New Age-y in her faux dreadlocks, is Valerie's grandmother. (That's three generations of Daggerhorn blondes.) And yes, there is a "What big teeth you have, Grandma!" moment. Hardwicke may not plumb the Freudian depths, but she can turn a joke or two.

Seyfried holds the camera's attention, playing this storybook business pretty much straight, although David Leslie Johnson's script puts the actress sorely to the test. The shots of Valerie walking across the snow in her long red cape are splendid, and aptly dreamlike; in fact, the color-saturated look of the film gives it an almost psychedelic aura.

Too bad the story doesn't resonate with the same intensity.EndText

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/