2002-10-10 / Arts & Entertainment

Third Time’s Not A Charm For ‘Red Dragon’s’ Hannibal Lecter

AP Entertainment Writer
By Christy LeMire

Edward Norton as FBI agent Will Graham and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter co-star in “Red Dragon.”  						   Glen Wilson©Universal PicturesEdward Norton as FBI agent Will Graham and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter co-star in “Red Dragon.” Glen Wilson©Universal Pictures

With all due respect to Anthony Hopkins, the world did not need to see him play Hannibal Lecter a third time.

The supposed allure of "Red Dragon" lies in seeing Hopkins star in all three movies as the cannibalistic criminal expert, with his impeccable manners and his propensity for serving up victims with ``fava beans and a nice Chianti.’’

But right there — the fact that a snippet of dialogue from "The Silence of the Lambs" is so instantly recognizable more than a decade after the movie’s release — proves my point.

Since that 1991 movie, Hopkins’ first as Lecter, which earned him a best-actor Oscar, the character has been mimicked and parodied so many times, he’s practically become a beloved comic figure.

Then in 2001, amid massive anticipation, Hopkins reprised the role in "Hannibal," Ridley Scott’s beautiful but blood-soaked adaptation of the third book in Thomas Harris’ series.

Now, Hopkins has returned for the screen version of the first book, "Red Dragon." But it’s hard to take him seriously as he stands in his cell and snarls at FBI investigator Will Graham, "You stink of fear under that cheap lotion."

We’ve seen him run this mind game on Clarice Starling. It’s too comfortable to cause chills.

The world also didn’t need "Red Dragon" because it already existed; it came out in 1986 and was called "Manhunter."

Brian Cox played Lecter before the character became ingrained in the cultural consciousness, and his take on the role was fascinatingly different — charismatic like Hopkins, but with a more intense edge. His screen time was way too short — you wanted to see more of him.

The thoroughly under appreciated "Manhunter" still holds up well today, even if writer-director Michael Mann’s "Miami Vice" aesthetic is a bit dated. As Will Graham, William Petersen (now of the hit TV show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") wears Crockett and Tubbs’ hand-me-downs, as a heavy synthesizer score drones with his every move.

The substance of "Red Dragon" is the same as "Manhunter," if the structure’s a bit different: Will (Edward Norton) is dragged from the sanctity of his Florida retirement to help look for a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy, who has brutally slain two families in the South.

Will reluctantly must return to Lecter, the former ally he helped put away for murder, for insight in understanding the killer’s mind.

While "Hannibal" was gratuitously gory, "Red Dragon" strays too far in the opposite direction. It’s surprisingly tepid, considering that Brett Ratner of the "Rush Hour" movies is the director. And its villain (Ralph Fiennes) snivels and shrieks so much, he’s more funny than frightening.

(We’re supposed to believe those years of abuse for a physical deformity made The Tooth Fairy homicidal, but even with a cleft lip, Fiennes is still a gorgeous man. Tom Noonan, who played the role in ``Manhunter,’’ was truly creepy, in a silent, unforced way.)

The rest of it feels simply familiar; "Silence of the Lambs" screenwriter Ted Tally is back, with several lines from Mann’s "Manhunter" script. (One of Lecter’s more memorable zingers: "You ever see blood in the moonlight? It appears quite black.")

Cinematographer Dante Spinotti returns from "Manhunter," though he’s replaced Mann’s striking whites and pastels with such a bleak shade of gray, the whole movie may as well take place at FBI headquarters.

Even Anthony Heald is back from "Lambs" as the uptight, scheming Dr. Chilton. Other members of the superb cast, including Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel and Mary-Louise Parker, seem to be going through the motions, and have proven themselves capable of far more.

Philip Seymour Hoffman stands out, though, as a slimy tabloid reporter who’s hounded Will for years.

And there is, undeniably, a chemistry to the sparring between Hopkins and Norton _ with so much talent between them, how could there not be?

"Just like old times, eh, Will?’’ Lecter asks from behind bars.

It does — and hopefully, it’s for the last time.

"Red Dragon," rated R for violence, grisly images, language, some nudity and sexuality, runs 126 minutes.

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