Reviewer's rating: 6/10

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - trailer

Hansel and Gretel have become a formidable team of bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.

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Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Reader rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (12 votes)

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is so stoically grim and pulpily violent it transcends seriousness to become pleasingly ludicrous.

It's not entirely clear everyone involved in the production is aware of this, but despite the setting of a fairytale dark woodland, the film has more in common with the gonzo horror realm of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead than recent blockbusters such as Snow White and the Huntsman. Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola came up with zombie Nazis for his 2009 film Dead Snow, so it's not surprising his first Hollywood production is such an oddball mash-up. Taking place somewhere between Pasadena and Prague, the film combines mediaeval villagers and crossbow machine-guns, a steampunk taser and a surprisingly sweet troll. The characters stop just short of high-fiving each other.

In a curtly told prologue, young siblings Hansel and Gretel find themselves lured into the candy-strewn lair of a crone-like witch, on whom they turn the tables and incinerate in her own oven (take that, domestic goddess), launching a career as supernatural bounty hunters. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the pair as swaggering adults in snugly matching leather waistcoats.

Wirkola is too busy a director to build or sustain genuine moments of horror, and his idea of a running joke is the repeated assaults of Gretel on the nose of the buffoonish sheriff (Peter Stormare) whenever he gets too close to her. The fight scenes where brother and sister take on various dark entities grow repetitive - witch-fu doesn't offer much that's new - but excess eventually brings a nutty effervescence to proceedings.

Stolen children lead to clues suggesting a vast witch conspiracy, and Famke Janssen enjoys herself hissing and prowling around Hansel and Gretel as Muriel, a Grand Witch with big plans. But despite a sweet wand and a fast broomstick, a little demented evil to match the splatter and decapitations would have helped.

Still, someone casts the spell that makes Renner take his shirt off and, after charismatic performances in films including The Hurt Locker and The Bourne Legacy that were starting to become grim, he offers a bemused undercurrent to all the running and fighting. Hansel isn't entirely committed to witch-hunting, and he may not be the only one.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
Rated MA, 88 minutes, opens Thursday
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Thomas Mann