The carnivorous killer Hannibal Lecter, first introduced in an excellent Thomas Harris novel called Red Dragon and then made the focus of a follow-up, The Silence of the Lambs, and its sequel, Hannibal, has gotten a thorough workout in a succession of big-screen versions (including not one but two adaptations of Red Dragon). Predicated on the notion that what’s really missing from the saga is an origin story, this belabored prequel about Nazis, the Russian army, and Lithuanian orphans is crassly conceived, poorly executed, and devoid of wit and/or charm. There’s plenty of clumsy storytelling but very little in the way of atmosphere and credibility, nor even hints of Lecter’s vaunted cleverness. Granted, the character portrayed by Anthony Hopkins is meant to have a few decades of experience on the teen variation played here by the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, but where Hopkins invested Lecter with penetrating insight and a flair for the theatrical, Ulliel just acts like a mildly excitable high-schooler whose iPod is loaded with one too many emo revenge fantasies. Gong Li — again with the gorgeous Chinese woman playing a gorgeous Japanese woman! — is wasted, but at least adds a touch of class to the proceedings. The problem is Hannibal Rising is worse than inept — it’s out-and-out dull, despite the occasional glimmer of an intriguing idea. Harris himself wrote the screenplay, which is based on his own novel. Not having read it, I can’t say whether this tedious movie is worse than the book. But one thing’s for sure — out of everyone involved with this sorry project, Harris is the one who should be most ashamed of himself for not realizing it was a terrible, terrible idea. D
A version of this review was originally published in theWhite Plains Times.