Hannibal: All sizzle, no steak
When Hannibal, Thomas Harris' highly anticipated follow-up to Silence Of The Lambs, hit bookstores in 1999 many were appalled by the repulsive deeds described in the book and called it unfilmable.
But naysayers be damned when at stake is the next juicy installment in the cat-and-mouse battle of FBI agent Clarice Starling and the world's most famous serial killer, Dr Hannibal Lecter.
The namesake film version of Hannibal hits the marquee ten long years after Silence Of The Lambs won a raft of Oscars and Lecter's clipped, "Good evening, Clarice," sent a shiver down our collective spines.
The film begins with Lecter still at large. But it looks like he has been on his best behaviour lately, curbing his predilection to slice, dice and skin his fellow humans.
He is leading an idyllic life as the curator of an art museum in Florence, Italy, soaking up the sophisticated pleasures of Renaissance art and culture.
Back in America, Agent Starling (the freckled Julianne Moore replacing the lock-jawed Jodie Foster) is still haunted by Lecter's disappearance. A crude misogynist from the Justice Department, Paul Krendler (the hammy Ray Liotta, Goodfellas), is hounding her. To top her cup of woes, she gets demoted to a desk job because of her over-zealousness in a drug bust.
Meanwhile, a millionaire paedophile Mason Verger (the uncredited and unrecognisable Gary Oldman), the only Lecter victim to escape alive, is offering a healthy sum to have Lecter shipped alive to his estate where he wants to exact vengeance with the help of man-eating wild hogs.
A greedy Italian inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is keen to oblige Verger and collect the reward.
Clarice, who has been reassigned to the Lecter case, on the other hand, is trying to keep Lecter out of Verger's hands.
Fed up with the shenanigans of those in his pursuit, Lecter drops his art history books and reverts to what he does best: dispatching the "rude" and uncivilised with nonchalant brutality. He takes care of the not-so-sharp Pazzi and heads back to America to deal with Verger, Krendler and reunite with his nemesis Clarice, who is also the only person he respects and possibly loves.
In one scene, when Verger is asked why, at Lecter's prodding, he willingly sliced up his own face with glass shards, he simply replies, "It seemed like a good idea at that time."
Of course, it was a lame-brained idea. And so is this film which is dripping in atmosphere and soaked in blood, but is utterly devoid of any drama or suspense.
While Jonathan Demme's taut direction and Ted Tally's smart adaptation of Silence Of The Lambs kept that film safely above the slasher genre, this film wallows neck-deep in it.
Hannibal apparently seeks the status of a sophisticated thriller/horror film simply by assembling an all-star crew of director Ridley Scott (Gladiator), screenwriters Steve Zaillain (Schindler's List) and David Mamet (The Untouchables), music director Hans Zimmer and an Oscar-friendly cast.
But when Hannibal is not being boring, it's being absurd.
How else does one explain the fact that the notorious Lecter is able to lead a fairly public life in a major European city while being on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list? Or the ridiculous ease with which he slips back into the US?
Perhaps the biggest problem with this enterprise is the non-existent chemistry between Starling and Lecter.
In Silence Of The Lambs, the tense cat-and-mouse banter between those two characters served as the pivot for the rest of the film. Here, they don't meet until towards the end. And when they do, it lacks the chilly crackle of their first meeting in the predecessor.
Then there is the graphic brutality. For those who love watching human bodies get violated, there is plenty to savour: disembowelment, gushing blood, dogs chewing on freshly-cut human flesh and Verger's horrifically mangled face.
The piece de resistance is the so-called surprise ending in the kitchen where Lecter performs a feat that would qualify him for the title of the world's most brilliant neurosurgeon. Suffice it to say that scene is not for those who have trouble keeping their food down.
Silence Of The Lambs was, by turns, chilling and terrifying, and it deservedly catapulted Dr Lecter high atop filmdom's pantheon of evil.
Which is why Hopkins' reprisal here is disappointing. He does make inane phrases like "Goody, goody" and "okey dokey" sound special with his pitch-perfect delivery, but much of that razor-sharp wit and hissy menace is gone.
Behind bars, he was a terrifying presence. As a free man, he's turned into a pedestrian psycho. Moore, usually a fine actress, plays her part blandly as if the intervening ten years had drained her of all personality.
Hannibal is all sizzle, no steak. It's tasteless fare that can't be rescued even with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.