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Overall Rating

Awesome: 24.19%
Worth A Look39.52%
Average: 14.52%
Pretty Bad: 4.03%
Total Crap: 17.74%

8 reviews, 76 user ratings

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Red Dragon
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by Jack Sommersby

"Red Dragon Blows Wads Rather than Fire"
1 stars

This remake of Michael Mann's outstanding "Manhunter" is about as fun as a proctology exam administered by a doctor named Captain Hook. There was absolutely no reason for this 2002 updating, except that of innate greed on the part of producer Dino De Laurentiis, who also produced "Manhunter" back in 1986. The initially intriguing story soon turns lethargic, the thrills are non-existent, the characters are ho-hum, the narrative drive is stunted, and the film as a whole is tepid and impersonally made. With blockbuster hack Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") directing and overrated scribe Ted Tally ("The Silence of the Lambs") writing, it's not too surprising that "Red Dragon" collapses quicker than Enron stock.

A few hours after seeing the atrocious Red Dragon, I sat down to revel in the newly released DVD of the classic 1978 musical Grease. There, I took particular notice of the song-and-dance number "You're the One That I Want," where John Travolta's high-school rebel and Olivia Newton John's hat-head outcast matched wits in a set piece of verbal hyperbole, proclaiming their undying love for one another. What struck me wasn't the ingenuity of it -- the choreography by Patricia Birch is weak -- but director Randal Kleiser's undeniable belief in the innate romantic power derived from these two larger-than-life figures. Kleiser, a director-for-hire who's a few thousand zip codes away from ever being in the class of an auteur, with his unremarkable visual sense, at least believed in what he was filming -- he let the sequence rip with the mere potential of greatness and didn't get in the way by overcomplicating matters and polluting the film frame with obtrusive camerabatics. As a result, it had considerable emotional purity, a dramatic vivacity that was rooted to these polar opposites who simply wanted to dispose of their pre-conceived social prejudices and just take destiny at face value. Late in the game in Red Dragon, a sadistic serial killer by the name of Francis Dolarhyde (played by Ralph Fiennes) and a blind woman (Emily Watson) -- who's agog over finding an unexpected, non-judgmental love interest -- seem destined for each another. Only this time, the director in charge, Brett Ratner, shortchanges them by failing to give their scenes proper shaping and emotional shading. Right when they start to generate some interest, to give the audience a necessary emotional stake in the story, Ratner cuts away to keep the promising but badly developed story rambling along, and the ensuing result is akin to a pre-ejaculatory lover -- right when you're in the middle of digging the experience, you're brought up short by a crass dimwit oblivious to the rudimentary stages of pleasurable foreplay. Suffice to say, Red Dragon is forever blowing wads.

Mind you, Dolarhyde isn't exactly the kind of character a person would bend over backwards to introduce to their loved ones -- he slaughters entire families (even their pets) as some sort of metaphysical "becoming" of the powerful man-beast of poet William Blake's painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun. He's a disfigured, schizophrenic self-made outcast who craves the acceptance of another social outcast who can't see his own physical handicap: a clef palate, which has hindered his speech and his ability to articulately convey his sense of greatness, superiority. If the Travolta/Newton-John romance was superficial by film standards, then the Fiennes/Watson one has the potential for complexity, so it deserves above-average handling. However, Ratner, whose forte up until here was lightweight formula stuff by the likes of the Rush Hour series and The Family Man, has no idea how to locate and bring out and vivify the dramatic center in a given scene; he's too concerned with keeping a film "moving" for audiences with thirty-second attention spans, so a great deal of subtext is jettisoned as being deemed incompatible for the today's filmgoers. (Like a pompous yuppie or soccer mom at a cash register, the audience is presumed to be too impatient to wait.) Red Dragon is a film that's been engineered to appeal to idiots. And I don't mean that people who wind up liking he film are idiots, but simply that the idiotic reasoning inherent in the overall handling gives off that unmistakable impression. (Even some respectable national critics have praised it -- most of whom, mind you, also praised Clint Eastwood's tepid Blood Work just a few months ago.) Everything in the film comes off as lukewarm, as purely second-rate disposables geared to enthrall those who need a simplistic aesthetic fix every few seconds -- Stop for enlightening exposition, and that'll be the kiss of death!, seemed to be the predominating mind-set going into the production. Rarely have I seen such a dire attempt at a psychological thriller so completely devoid of sound dramatics; rarer still, have I witnessed such a blatant disregard for commonplace narrative structure. Nothing in Red Dragon makes a bit of sense, which is largely due to the intent to breeze over its many disturbing story aspects to satisfactorily fuse with the dumbed-down expectations of the masses. (It's the worst of its kind since the excruciating Murder by Numbers took off from its Leopold & Loeb basis and rendered its villains as the cinematic equivalents of a Ren & Stimpy duo.)

For a film that purports to examine the tragic ramifications of social isolation, Red Dragon is unforgivably naive and obtuse. The villain's view of himself as a freak is completely botched because we're not allowed to sense the lifeforce behind this supposed freak -- we don't sense the twisted passion brewing within him -- and Ralph Fiennes is way too attractive to be cast as a man set back by a natal malady such as a clef palate (a flaw that was also apparent, but considerably less so, with Tom Cruise's disfigured playboy in last year's imperfect but fetching Vanilla Sky). And Emily Watson, both talented and beautiful, is disappointingly overly-studied here as his emotional pit-stop and savior -- she italicizes just about every one of her emotions, and even as a blind woman she's given to opening her eyes a little too wide, like porcelain saucers awaiting the landing of tea cups. To be fair, both Fiennes and Watson are honest performers who appear to be probing for a valid dramatic core in their scenes, but the screenplay fails to provide them with the dramatic grounding needed to give them something viable to key off of. Alas, they end up as casualties of the script -- and pawns to simply provide the story with a subplot. If these two weren't the sole figures of interest, then their badly developed scenes might not have taken such a heavy toll on things. Unfortunately, they do. Because the ones involving the hero, ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), are completely lackluster in both intensity and, at the very least, interest.

Graham is set up to be no ordinary sleuth: he's the one who singlehandedly ended the murderous reign of the infamous serial killer Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) by enacting the uncanny ability to assimilate the warped thinking of his prey. He's been conceived as the kind of ultra-perceptive person who can enter another person's subconscious, take on their point of view, and predict their next move. Yet nothing of this is followed through or expounded upon; we're blatantly told this from the onset, and the shoddy screenplay by Ted Tally soon drops the idea of doppelganger recognition to presumably get to "the goods." (To be fair, Thomas Harris's frightening, same-title novel didn't fully address this matter, either -- the author pulled back from it as if he didn't quite know how to lucidly communicate it. The only fictional work to succeed in this area is author David Wiltse's magnificent A Prayer for the Dead, featuring the unforgettable series character of another ex-FBI agent, John Becker.) Graham goes to the murder sites, talks to himself while trying to align his thinking with that of he killer's, but nothing intriguing comes of it. He's a rather placid film sleuth; and Norton, who gave impressive, forceful supporting performances in Primal Fear and The People vs. Larry Flynt yet took to insufferable, self-congratulatory grandstanding in Keeping the Faith and The Score, is simply too unexciting and uncharismatic a screen presence to fill in the character gaps. (It were as if the local pizza-delivery boy had been summoned to crack the case.) Graham comes off as no one in particular, just a by-the-numbers hero. And his worrywart of a wife, Molly (the unique Mary Louise Parker), once she's given target practice by her cautious beau, is even less of a believable fictional creation -- she's simply around to fire the last few shots into the dastardly foe. (If you think I've given away anything, than you obviously haven't seen Fatal Attraction or any other of its ilk in the last fifteen years or so). As for the talented Phillip Michael Seymour, who plays obnoxious tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds, he gives the first boo-hiss performance of his career; his lethargic rendition suggests he was doped up on Dramamine throughout the filing (which, given the circumstances of his boat-payment acting efforts, might not have been such a deplorable state to be in given the artistic surroundings). Harvey Keitel, as Graham's mentor, Jack Crawford, has absolutely nothing to play; and this Method actor, who needs motivation to even take a drink of water, is left fumbling about.

That leaves Anthony Hopkins. He was grossly overrated for his over-the-top shenanigans in the grossly overrated The Silence of the Lambs -- which force-fed every emotion and story fallacy onto the viewer with sledgehammer-like subtlety -- and has yet to revive any reason for being in the character. He was effective in Silence in a shameless way, acting the part of a monster in a horror flick (which the filmmakers insisted it was anything but); yet in the ambitious but failed sequel Hannibal, he was at a loss as how to give the character gravitas, rootedness -- indicative of a two-dimensional part unable to sustain itself outside the hokey realm of (again) a horror flick. What made Lecter so fascinating in the novel wasn't just his uncanny insight and intelligence, but his utter disregard for human life; his lack of a conscience was horrifying (yet somewhat tragic, as well). Here was an exceptionally gifted man who became a monster by choice; and his steadfast acceptance of evil gave readers the willies -- you couldn't get an easy-to-peg emotional reading on him, and thus were unable to assume a comfortable, safe distance from him. Yet Harris never sensationalized the character. He was as three-dimensional and believable as Graham, his captor, which gave their passages together an unnerving, disquieting validity; when Lecter told Graham they're "just alike" it had resonance, because this human monster was so organically etched that it was conceivable that all that separated the two was Lecter's absence, and Graham's conscience. Their desires were similar, yet Graham was always walking a mental tightrope between good and evil, and that's why his initial one-on-one meeting with Lecter posed such a threat to his sanity -- he needed to recapture this sick mind-set to sift for mental clues to nab the Tooth Fairy without becoming him in the process. In the novel, Lecter was the kind of man who could easily function in everyday society without giving off signals to his madness (which, of course, is what really makes serial killers so frightening), but Hopkins continues to play the man with the subtlety and fine-tuned nuance of a burlesque performer. Everything he does is on the surface; every word of dialogue is over-annunciated; and while this may seem fitting to a person who's been incarcerated for so long that his need to communicate to outsiders in an overeggagerated manner is the only way to maintain his air of superiority, it doesn't do much for him as a plausible, flesh-and-bone creation. He's still nothing more than a cheap-gimmick bogeyman.

Even without the hokey Lecter, Red Dragon would still be a shambles because it just isn't thrilling. Shot by shot, scene by scene, sequence by sequence, there's a dire absence of tension, of the slightest semblance of propulsion to the story. With such riveting source material you'd think that even a mediocre hack could have succeeded with it. Director Ratner, though, has no idea how to properly pace a film and provide it with something critics refer to as a "through-line": a narrative cohesive which enables the sequences to progress fluidly from one to the other. Strangely, for an exemplary hack, Ratner has the annoying habit of cutting his sequences short before giving them the chance to properly build. In Rush Hour 2 (which I unexpectedly enjoyed), he had a great introductory of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker singing along to The Beach Boys' "California Girls" inside a car; but right when your senses started to sparkle -- and you found yourself bouncing along with the characters in unison -- Ratner switched to a boring incidental of the guys unsuccessfully trying to woo a couple of babes in the next car over, and the sequence just went splat! Here, Ratner's work isn't even competent enough to assimilate with that of a traffic cop's. When a pertinent note is discovered in Lecter's cell that is deduced to have been written by the Tooth Fairy, and the feds, under a limited time frame, need to analyze it for forensic evidence and get it back to the cell before Lecter gets wise, the audience should be swooped along with the immediacy of the situation; but the staging is clunky, the timing off, the editing imprecise, and the camera (which never seems to be in the right damn place) records everything in such awkward angles that we have too many opportunities to practically spot the chalk marks Ratner isn't hitting. In interviews, Ratner has admitted he's more of a copier of other director's styles than an original director of his own right; so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the overall handling of Red Dragon is so bereft of imagination. (Ratner even brings back the title cards from Silence, which denote the building, city, and state of any given location -- as if we were all morons who needed every morsel of story info spoon-fed to us and washed down with an overpriced Coca-Cola from the snack bar.) But it's his ultimate indifference to the hard edge of the material that renders Red Dragon as obsolete adult-oriented entertainment. Ratner filters all the disturbing story elements into a box-office sure-fire cleanser which smoothes out all the tricky idiosyncracies and molds them into impersonal datum to be simplistically interpreted -- and conveniently accepted by audiences who only like to think they think in a supposed psychological thriller such as this.

For the uninitiated, the novel Red Dragon was already made into a 1986 film, Manhunter, which was written for the screen and directed by the prolific Michael Mann. While it certainly has its share of imperfections -- the blasting rock songs, the Miami Vice wardrobes, the excessively stylish cinematography and set design, William Petersen's not-quite-successful lead performance (it's a bit too held-in) -- what's difficult to vehemently deny is that it's keenly analytical, has considerable narrative drive, and is appropriately unpleasant. Mann placed you in the sicko mind-set of a homicidal maniac without pulling back; it was unpleasant, certainly, but also mesmerizing. The police procedurals were enticing, yes, but it was Mann's willingness to give ample screen time and understanding to this brutal antagonist that riveted us. And the film was remarkably non-exploitive considering its grisly subject matter. When the Tooth Fairy showed projection slides of the murdered women to a doomed reporter, Mann pulled back from the gory details and concentrated instead on the reporter's horrified reactions to them; a few minutes later in the very same scene, the reporter's lips are bitten off, but we weren't shown this -- we were simply required to recall his words dictated into a tape recorder right before, "From my own lips you'll learn...," to register the unimaginable. But Manhunter's biggest plus was Mann's willingness to interpret the source material and make it his own, whereas Red Dragon's Ratner has simply approached the screenplay with a directing-by-numbers approach, neither interpreting nor inventing -- just churning out familiarities and toning down unpleasantries to sate a popcorn-muncher's entertainment-value quotient. It should also be noted that the great character actor Brian Cox's performance as Lecter still stands as the real testimonial to this classic character. He's never lurid, never hammy, never overreaching; rather, he's bone-deep in dramatic truth, focused, and fascinating without ever straining to be. (As the Los Angles film critic Sheila Benson observed, Cox puts the character over so convincingly that you feel Lecter could probably run for the governor's office from behind bars and win if he simply put his mind to it.)

Unlike a lot of priggish purists who went into Red Dragon with pre-conceived notions and an ultimatum to hate it simply because they adore Manhunter (a myopic prejudice that kept some fans of the original, Norwegian-made Insomnia from basking in the rewarding qualities of this year's stunning American remake), I approached it with an open mind and the desire to be held spellbound, unnerved, and just plain entertained. Alas, there's not a single good scene to its credit. Not one. Everything in it is undistinguished, obvious, and engineered for easy effects (and that includes the laughably elephantine score by Danny Elfman, which belongs somewhere else entirely -- perhaps a Wagnerian opera). It's missing the kind of standout moments from Manhunter that challenged your senses (like when Graham made a late-night phone call to his wife to absorb his passion for her, and then transferred that to the image of the wife on the home movies of the slain family's to re-create the killer's infatuation of her), and emotionally affected you (like when Graham, after having explained his talent for sharing the "ugliest thoughts in the world" with killers to his young son, turned his back to him, ashamed of the freak he viewed himself as). Director Ratner drops the ball from start to finish, certainly. But screenwriter Tally deserves to shoulder a good part of the blame, too. He's been more faithful to the novel than Mann was, but some of the passages he maintained were cliches even back in 1986, which Mann was wise to excise: an abusive grandmother as the root cause of the making of the killer; and a villain who (believe it or not!) isn't quite as dead as we're led to believe during the film's final stretches. Manhunter copped out in the end with an implausible shootout, but at least the happenstances leading up to it were believable; in Red Dragon, however, the opposite is true, because the final shootout wouldn't have been possible without the dunce-cap follow-through thinking of the investigators. I've certainly seen worse films than Red Dragon, but I'd be hard pressed to cite more than five that squandered such classic source material to keep a money-train franchise appeasable to the general acceptance to a public who claim to crave films with some depth, yet, more often than not, wade back to the shallow end of the creative pool when presented with material that cuts against the grain of safe, conventional cinematic fare. Tragic, indeed.

I've taken pisses longer than the accumulated time of enjoyment I derived from "Red Dragon." Advice: See "The Care Bears Movie" instead.

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originally posted: 12/11/02 03:52:01
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User Comments

3/25/18 morris campbell not bad but the book is the best version of this story 3 stars
6/27/14 Monday Morning Biting someone's lips off - definitely will hurt the guy on the dating scene. 4 stars
2/09/14 Captain pooper-scooper. Aww yeaa. U get wit dis, u get wit dat, u get wit dis. Shoots dang! Ting! Is good film! 5 stars
2/08/13 Jeff Wilder Entertaining but pointless. Wathc Manhunter instead. 2 stars
2/10/10 Alex Thorne better than it has every right to be. Fiennes is the highlight here 4 stars
4/24/09 GordonD Dull, lifeless cash-in, made solely to have a trilogy with Hopkins. 2 stars
3/03/08 ladavies I preferred Manhunter. 3 stars
10/15/07 Sandy Sussman Bestest movie I ever Seen 1 stars
8/02/07 Indrid Cold At least Hannibal was fresh and entertaining. This is competent but just a retread of SOTL. 3 stars
6/20/07 Muted Orbz Michael Mannhunter was Lifetime network dull. This was a 360. 5 stars
1/10/07 harry fucking shit 5 stars
12/31/06 del What was wrong with MANHUNTER? Everything - sadly, this IS superior. Deal with it. 4 stars
12/16/06 David Pollastrini good gore. 4 stars
9/22/06 Alyssa Hale Excellent movie! The actors were great! 5 stars
6/22/06 TB Little okay suspense movie 3 stars
4/04/06 Billy Joe Williams Awesome movie. Had to watch it a couple of times but it was great every time. 5 stars
12/26/05 chris truly a masterpeice.... 5 stars
9/25/05 Hotdog Lazy..Desperate..Cash Grubbing...Cynical...Amateurish...Criminal Rehash of a Classic 1 stars
8/18/05 ES Better than silence and hannibal 4 stars
4/26/05 E-FUNK Brett Ratner takes 'Manhunter' and turns it into 'Man-chowder'. Unnecessary and insulting. 1 stars
3/25/05 dwarzel what was wrong with Manhunter? 1 stars
3/07/05 R.W. Welch About as good as Manhunter though it gets pretty hokey towards the end. 4 stars
11/24/04 Steve Newman The Dragon tattoo is fantastic. Great film, well acted, very enjoyable, go watch. 4 stars
11/15/04 zsuzsanna Exciting, wonderfully played. 5 stars
10/01/04 Cannabinoid fallopian tube WICKED!!! (in the best way) 5 stars
4/07/04 Sig This redeems itself from "Hannibal" 5 stars
2/25/04 Dr.Lecter Better than the shallow, lifeless Manhunter in every way 5 stars
2/04/04 LIAM JACKSON ratner's biggest wank-fest to date. manhunter was a classic 1 stars
2/02/04 Samuel norton and hopkins give great performances, but the killer is a skinny guy who isnt scary 4 stars
12/07/03 john an abysmal attempt at a thriller - Michael Mann shot the same story better 20 years ago 1 stars
11/17/03 KING EDWARD bill rooney- i sincerely hope your whole family dies. i hope i can be the one to kill them. 5 stars
9/14/03 the dragon hey daniel p holla- what's with the faggot name? R.D. IS THE BEST. may you die soon, queer. 5 stars
8/28/03 Mr. Hat Great: the movie and the fact that the director of Money Talks & Rush Hour did this. 4 stars
8/19/03 snowconehead I tad bit obligatory, but decent enough to sit through 3 stars
8/14/03 Jeannie Karlsen RALPH FIENNES is my GOD! He is a brilliant actor in an o.k movie. Still bought it though. 4 stars
6/22/03 Daniel P Holla Anyone who thought this movie was watchable should be strung up by their toes 1 stars
6/19/03 gray Fails to affect on any level. Cast, direction, script... all mundane. 2 stars
6/06/03 Charles Tatum Competent direction and cast, but nothing new; better than Hannibal 4 stars
4/04/03 othree equals to Silence, great casting, through, 1st rate Hopkins' Hannibal 4 stars
3/17/03 Paul Coleman Suprisingly boring. See Michael Mann's MANHUNTER instead. 2 stars
2/24/03 the pilgrim my all time favorite- fiennes IS dolorhyde- 'manhunter' be damned!! 5 stars
1/02/03 Elizaveta Gotta love Edward Norton - not as great as "silence" though. 5 stars
12/15/02 David A. Great movie, but Dolarhyde could have grown a mustache! (Dr. Evil would tell me to ZIP IT!) 4 stars
12/12/02 Monster W. Kung Jesus Christ, what's the all-time idiot Sommersby doing in here? Fuck off! 3 stars
11/26/02 malcolm read the book, see Manhunter 3 stars
11/12/02 Phoenix A really good movie with solid performances, although I think Manhunter is better. 5 stars
11/03/02 Obi Wan Don't see why this was such a big deal . .it was slow moving and dull 3 stars
11/02/02 Monster W. Kung Well, I don't find any of the movies with Lecter very impressive. Average (like Silence). 3 stars
11/02/02 Angelo Defanti BEtter than "Manhunter" 5 stars
11/01/02 Shaun I love this movie, so much better then Manhunter 5 stars
10/26/02 j. c. really great and creepy, your attacks were too harsh 5 stars
10/25/02 Jim The Movie Freak Responds Actually you cried when you saw the size of my cock, Choadushouse 1 stars
10/21/02 marzio It's well done, but we did not need it! Mann's Manhunter was better 3 stars
10/18/02 Matthew Smith far superior than Hannibal and Manhunter, one of the year's most enjoyable thrillers 5 stars
10/16/02 .Choadushouse. Jim the Freak sucks my cock. This was good. I cried for love and intensity. 4 stars
10/15/02 Mike This guy is actually a movie reviewer? hes pretty narrow minded... 5 stars
10/14/02 KMG That's ONE FIENNES DICK you have there, Ralph! 5 stars
10/13/02 "Yes the shit." This director should be fucking killed. All the talent involved was raped by this fuck. 1 stars
10/12/02 Xxtreme Really good, way better than hannibal. Almost as good as silence of the lambs 4 stars
10/11/02 Butterbean I agree with Jim that Dolarhyde's character was underdeveloped. But its a great movie! 4 stars
10/10/02 Hawaiiantomboy07 Loved It! It was better than "Manhunter". 5 stars
10/10/02 Melina Great acting and suspense. 5 stars
10/10/02 TimmyTomorrow I thought this was a comedy! 2 stars
10/08/02 Anarchy Azmi jim...please fuck off 4 stars
10/08/02 wintermute Most of the film has thankfully started to fade from my mind. 3 stars
10/07/02 Frankie Ran circles around "Hannibal". Perfect casting! 5 stars
10/06/02 Uncle Salty Well it was better than Hannibal. Then again, the stuff in the waffle on my shoe was too. 3 stars
10/06/02 Topplebot Surprisingly not a hack piece of shit. Norton's great, story's good, Fiennes delivers again 5 stars
10/06/02 ajay very nice. 5 stars
10/06/02 Mike One of the best films so far this year. 5 stars
10/06/02 Roy Smith A great movie with a fantastic opening and a great ending! 4 stars
10/06/02 Nicole So much better than Hannibal. Everything a GOOD psychological thriller should be. 4 stars
10/05/02 jarrod_101 True to the awesome book. a bit slow moving but still very very good. 5 stars
10/05/02 Buddha Are you nuts? Hannibal sucked like a Hoover. Thankfully, this didn't. 5 stars
10/05/02 ryan phillippe gets hit by a car and it rules Hannibal didn't suck, and I hope when you say the origional you don't mean Manhunter. 5 stars
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  04-Oct-2002 (R)



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