The script for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters makes the German fairytale's gingerbread house look like a sturdy structure in comparison. Bereft of engaging characters or dialogue, it lurches from one blood-splattered action sequence to the next, even threatening viewers with a sequel at the end. Not even a procession of alluring visuals can stop this from feeling like a sub-Buffy TV show pilot.
The tedium kicks off with a young brother and sister becoming separated from their parents and finding themselves in the iconic gingerbread house, only to be accosted by a witch who resembles baking legend Mary Berry after a heavy night out. Fast forward a few years and the grown-up siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) sabotage an attempted witch execution.
It's during this act that a moment best branded an anachronism cataclysm arrives, for Gretel's first line - delivered amidst the painstakingly established setting of a medieval Bavarian town - just happens to be "I'm gonna blow your sheriff brains all over these f**king hillbillies". An American accent is involved.
At this point, the brains of many viewers will latch upon this threat and instantly implode, in a merciful act of self-sacrifice. If not, further hackneyed one-liners like Gretel's "you gotta be f**king kidding me" will squish the little grey cells en masse.
The barely coherent storyline thankfully zips along at quick pace, involving Famke Janssen's malevolent witch alternating between glam face and scary face while antagonising random folks, interspersed with Hansel and Gretel either shooting at baddies or musing about the fate of their parents (cue inevitable revelatory flashback!).
At one point, Hansel and Gretel stroke each other's faces after recovering from battle and you almost hope it leads to a dodgy incestuous grope or two. Anything to liven up proceedings and give these two ciphers some remotely interesting characteristics. But alas, they behave.
On the subject of being awkwardly screwed, the use of 3D in this film - which results in a higher ticket price - is woefully ineffective. It's not worth shelling out more hard-earned coins for the sake of some CGI debris appearing to fly in your direction at sporadic intervals. There's nothing more to it than that.
In fairness, this ill-conceived project makes the similarly themed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter pale in comparison. Renner and Arterton do have a natural screen presence, while director Tommy Wirkola deploys a decent degree of slick camerawork, visual flourishes and gory invention during the action sequences, alongside rapid cuts that don't detract from their coherency.
The sets and forest-based locations are refreshing to look at too, although it does say a great deal when 'NICE SHRUBBERY' was the most positive comment scribbled down in this reviewer's notepad during the movie.