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The ubiquity of pulp-novel juggernaut Hannibal Lecter may signify many things to cult-stud scholars, but the phenom is simple to read: We use the serial-killer-as-mastermind myth to impose order upon criminal mayhem. Imagining the killer as an oddly rational, cosmology-diddling genius makes random homicide decipherable, and thus less threatening than the acts of those scattershot impulse machines who fit the actual serial-killer profile. Our love for Lecter echoes the Germanic yen in the '20s and '30s for criminal underworlds arranged like legit governments and businesses. Hannibal Lecter is a bedtime story, a Mabuse-like brainiac about as affecting as Dr. Evil.

None of this theorizing should suggest that Red Dragon, the new and utterly unnecessary remake of Michael Mann's adroit 1986 thriller Manhunter, is worth the tin can it comes in. Created merely because the Mann film didn't star Anthony Hopkins (a much more convincing and slithery Brian Cox originated the role), Brett Ratner's dull rehash does represent an improvement over the fatuous cartooniness of Ridley Scott's Hannibal. With Edward Norton as the scarred FBI smarty-pants soliciting Lecter's advice from that same picturesque cell while hunting down Ralph Fiennes's placid tattooed ogre, Red Dragon lurks in the shadow of The Silence of the Lambs as if it were the earlier film's spin-off sitcom. (Anthony Heald's unctuous prison shrink is now a running gag, the scenario's Mr. Roper.) Once an esteemed thespian, Hopkins devotes most of his concentration to trying not to blink and intoning cannibal puns with the strained menace of Boris Karloff in his dotage. On the other hand, Norton is far too young, Method-y, and earnest for his role; the conversations between the two play like a freshman James Dean chatting up Aleister Crowley. Red Dragon's formula is so risible and rote by now that the natural reaction to scenes of peril, torture, and suffering is flippant laughter. Every rental of the Mann instead is a vote for Hopkins's retirement.


The Hopkins diet: before Lambs, Red Dragon
photo: Universal
The Hopkins diet: before Lambs, Red Dragon

Details

Red Dragon
Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Ted Tally, from the novel by Thomas Harris
Universal
Opens October 4

The Man From Elysian Fields
Directed by George Hickenlooper
Written by Philip Jayson Lasker
Samuel Goldwyn
Opens October 4

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Manure of a relatively clover-scented variety, George Hickenlooper's The Man From Elysian Fieldsis at primal odds with itself. Striving in every sense to be mushy, magical, and even a little profound, the film (scripted by Golden Girls alum Philip Jayson Lasker) is overtaken by the demoralized brooding of a family man who resorts to being a male escort to pay the bills. Byron Tiller (mopey co-producer Andy Garcia), an ostensibly penniless suburban novelist whose big pulp novel bombed, keeps a spacious office in an antique Pasadena office building and spends hours sipping cocktails at a posh gin mill while his faithful wife (Julianna Margulies) scrubs laundry on a washboard. Believability is an early casualty to it-looks-cool horsecrap. Along comes Mick Jagger—a mysterious agent of opportunity who urbanely pimps to millionaires' wives—and offers Byron a job. Just a gigolo, the temporarily chaste Byron falls in with Andrea (Olivia Williams), the lonely spouse of a famous, diabetic novelist (James Coburn), decides to sleep with her (why, we never know), and eventually joins up with Coburn's faux-Hemingway to co-write his autumnal novel.

Full of glib pretensions (the hero's baby is named Nathaniel Hawthorne) and under the mistaken impression that self-pity is attractive and philandering says nothing about the philanderer, Hickenlooper's film also displays a fourth-grader's ideas about books,writers, and publishing. Garcia's earlier vehicle/co-production, the scalper schmaltz Just the Ticket, had a similar rascally, Runyonesque dumbness; it's becoming clear that Garcia's career crash has been largely self-orchestrated.

 
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