Knock, Knock. Who's There?

Hannibal Lecter, being a connoisseur of fine wines, Renaissance art, and dapper Borsalino hats, would have liked the idea of Ridley Scott directing the long-awaited sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs." Scott, as we know from "Blade Runner" and "Gladiator," is a visual stylist par excellence. Every frame of his movies has to look just so. "Hannibal" was shot in Florence, Italy (where the cannibalistic Lecter is masquerading as art expert Dr. Fell), in Washington, D.C. (where FBI agent Clarice Starling is based), and on the grand Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. (where Lecter's victim and nemesis, billionaire Mason Verger, plots his revenge on the man who de-skinned his face), and it looks gorgeous. Scott conjures atmospheres that are baroquely seductive. He also gives us sights--Verger's grotesquely disfigured face; a man with the top of his head cut off, revealing a red pulsing brain that Lecter intends to saute for dinner--that make one cringe with disgust.

That's the good news. Unfortunately, what neither Scott nor screenwriters David Mamet and Steve Zaillian have been able to extract from Thomas Harris's problematical novel is a good story. "Hannibal" is strikingly devoid of suspense. It's not always clear who's the protagonist and who's the antagonist. Nor is it scary--at its most intense moments, it's merely yucky.

Verger (wittily played by an unrecognizable and uncredited Gary Oldman) uses his considerable resources to flush Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) out of hiding, using Clarice (Julianne Moore) as bait. But nothing interesting comes of it. When he finally gets Lecter in his grasp, the payoff is puny and perfunctory. The filmmakers have changed the novel's ending, figuring the audience wouldn't put up with a love story between the brainy, tenacious heroine and the depraved, elegant villain, but what's in its place is neither here nor there. The two stars have so little screen time together you feel cheated. Indeed, those who haven't seen Jonathan Demme's original film--if such persons exist--will wonder what all the fuss is about.

"Hannibal" doesn't seem to be about anything but its own swank decadence. Hopkins, with his reedy voice and effete airs, is still quite delicious in the part that won him an Oscar. But 10 years later, Lecter has become more camp than terrifying: you're likely to giggle as he closes in on the foolish Italian detective (Giancarlo Giannini) who thinks he can outwit America's favorite serial killer. Moore, with her angry chip-on-her-shoulder pride, is no slouch as Starling; it's not her fault that Jodie Foster had much better scenes to play. Probably nothing any critic has to say can keep the public away from the seductive Dr. Lecter. But "Hannibal" isn't likely to whet your appetite for more. It's all dressed up with nowhere to go--a beautiful dead end.

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Knock, Knock. Who's There? | News