Hannibal

A film not so much created as stubbornly willed into existence by market forces, Hannibal adapts novelist Thomas Harris' arbitrary sequel to Silence Of The Lambs into an equally arbitrary film sequel. Like its source, it suffers from the sense that it wouldn't exist if anyone involved had stopped to ask "Why?"—or if the ring of a cash register hadn't provided all the answer the question needed. Confined to a supporting role in Silence and its predecessor Red Dragon (filmed as Manhunter and featuring Brian Cox's interpretation of the character), Hannibal Lecter takes center stage in Hannibal, in the process negating everything that made him interesting. Though disturbing behind glass, Hopkins' Lecter seems more camp than creepy when let loose in the wild. Seen swooning over handcrafted furniture and smoking cigarettes wrapped in brown paper, he bears a closer resemblance to The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob than some creature let loose from nightmares or the nether regions of the id. Picking up Lambs' story a decade after its conclusion, Hannibal rejoins FBI agent Clarice Starling (played by Julianne Moore, stepping in for an absent Jodie Foster) just as she's disgraced in the wake of a drug raid botched through no fault of her own. A chance to redeem herself by revisiting her most famous case unexpectedly arrives when Gary Oldman, one of Hopkins' early victims, begins seeking information about the killer's whereabouts. A child-molesting aristocrat drugged into mutilating his own face under Hopkins' influence, and played under heavy make-up, Oldman's character suggests the supreme laziness at work here: He's a literal bogeyman in a series most notable for finding monsters in the fabric of the mundane. (It doesn't help that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the creature from the McDonald's-sponsored E.T. rip-off Mac And Me.) Moore is one of the best actresses working today, and the fact that she never manages to find her character says a great deal about the film's monumental lack of inspiration. Any interest at all was leeched from its predecessor, and Hannibal seems readily aware of that fact, serving up shocks with the regularity of a Child's Play sequel while never aspiring to the independent narrative logic of most fan fiction. Behind the camera, Ridley Scott assumes directing duties from Jonathan Demme, in many respects his philosophical antipode. A consummate stylist, Scott is probably incapable of making a less-than-watchable film, and as a purely technical exercise, Hannibal has its merits. But compared to Manhunter and Silence—at once intense, complex psychological dramas and superlative potboilers—Hannibal has the texture of rotten pulp.

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