In his rave review of Thomas Harris's long-awaited follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs, no less an authority than Stephen King hailed Dr. Hannibal Lecter as "the greatest fictional monster of our time." Those psyched for Lecter's celluloid return are advised to scale down their expectations.
The movie Hannibal is less monster than monstrosityalbeit, as superfluous sequels go, not on par with the memorably idiotic Godfather III. There's no redemption here, just the quest for a paycheck. Two Hollywood studios and a raft of high-priced talentincluding Ridley Scott, David Mamet, and Steven Zaillian, not to mention the city of Florencebring the necessary gravitas to this undertaking. Expending most of his enthusiasm on the movie's poster, Sir Anthony Hopkins has deigned to reinhabit his interpretation of the most dangerous man on the planet, but Jodie Foster, who gave what remains her adult career performance as FBI trainee Clarice Starling, declined in favor of the ever game Julianne Moore.
Moore has her baptism of fire 10 minutes into the movie when now FBI commando Clarice presides over a D.C. drug bust that is bungled into a Waco-like scandal. "I shot a mother holding her child," she blubbers angrily through clenched teeth, reminding viewers of the various parental issues beneath the surface of Silence of the Lambs. Moore's Clarice is heavily dependent on Foster's earlier incarnation, but radiating impatience throughout, she projects little of the solitude or vulnerability Foster brought to the role. Moore's Clarice is a proud lonerin this installment, her FBI patrons are replaced by a smirking superior named Krendler (Ray Liotta) who, for vague nefarious reasons, wants her not only discredited but set up.
The Taste of Others
Directed by Agnès Jaoui
Written by Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri
An Offline/Artistic License release
Opens February 9
Directed by Jean-Pierre Améris
Written by Alain Layrac
Through February 20
As a movie, Silence of the Lambs derived much of its power from being a psycho-slasher story in reverse. Hannibal has no comparable ogre for Starling to slay, unless it's the grotesque plutocrat Mason Vergerplayed by an unbilled Gary Oldman in makeup that suggests his hair plugs in The Contender were coated with flesh-eating parasites. Verger, it seems, once invited Lecter home for a bit of consensual s&m and, before he knew what was happening, found himself under the influence of amyl nitrite and complying with Lecter's suggestion that he seize a shard of broken glass, peel off his face, and feed the flesh to the dogs. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," Verger tells Clarice, wheezing from his respirator, in a doubly feeble one-liner.
Verger collects Lecter memorabilia (paying $250,000 for the famous hockey mask) and he has a notion to collect Lecter himself. Likewise, Clarice has begun receiving letters from her nightmare mentor, although it's been a decade since she last saw him. Although on the wagon as far as eating people is concerned, Lecter is still fascinated by Clarice's psychologyfar more than she herself. The action then shifts to Italy, where an arrogant local cop (Giancarlo Giannini) is also after Lecteralbeit for the rewardchasing the old monster through an atmospheric succession of pillared arcades, musty libraries, and grand piazzas in an endless quest to secure a clean fingerprint. Even after the movie returns to Washington, Scott keeps the choral music flowing and the fog machine pumping, while encasing as many scenes in steel grating as he can.
Scott's showy filmmaking is placed in the service of creating a myth, but for all the interest Hopkins shows in his demonic role, he might as well be one of Gladiator's digital effects. His face lit from below whenever possible, the star comes across as a sinister Truman Capoteportly and soigné, peeking coyly from beneath his trademark Panama hat. Able to slash a throat with a single desultory wave of his scalpel, Lecter more or less materializes at willpopping up at an open-air performance of Faustwith the same insouciance that he strolls into Clarice's bachelor-girl town house to watch her sleep.
Not nearly as sardonic as it means to be, Hannibal seems inanely pleased with itself. Comic highlights include the scene in which Clarice employs a team of hypersensitive human bloodhounds to sniff out Lecter's whereabouts, and the wild-goose chase in which he leads her through Union Station, keeping in constant telecommunication all the while so he can continue his ongoing inquiry into her feelings about her parents. There's also the moment when Verger lets loose a pack of carnivorous boarshopefully to devour the ordinary bores who have long been cluttering up the screen.
Speaking of boors, critics have been enjoined not to reveal the shock ending. Suffice to say it involves a culinary gross-out that, were the movie not R-rated, would delight any third-grader who has yet to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The Taste of Others, which sounds like it might be a subsequent installment of the Hannibal Lecter saga, is rather a droll situation comedy of male midlife crisis played out amid a clash of conflicting sensibilities. (The French title might have been more colloquially translated as Diff'rent Strokes.) That the movieshown at last year's New York Film Festivalwas directed and cowritten by French actress Agnès Jaoui perhaps accounts for its tolerant take on clueless men and flighty divas.
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