Hannibal Rising (France/United Kingdom/United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Hannibal Rising is the funniest movie of the year - a true laugh riot. Viewers will be holding their sides to contain the laughter. Forget Borat - if you're looking for something hilarious, this is the movie to see. What's that? It's not supposed to be a comedy. Oops.

First of all, who had the bright idea of making a Hannibal movie without Anthony Hopkins? That's like making a Pink Panther movie without Peter Sellars. (Yes, they did that and look at the result.) Frankly, after The Silence of the Lambs, the only reason to see the Hannibal movies was because of Hopkins. Secondly, using the critically panned novel by Thomas Harris as the template was another bad move. To his credit, Harris manages to make the screenplay worse than the novel.

Hannibal Rising effectively demystifies one of the 20th century's most iconic cinematic villains, stripping away his icy intellect and turning him into just another victim of a bad childhood. With its trifecta of bad writing, bad acting, and bad direction, Hannibal Rising is to Silence of the Lambs as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is to Superman. Critical miscalculations at every turn have taken this latest (and hopefully last) Hannibal movie beyond the realm of camp and into that special hell reserved for only the most rancid of sequels.

Hannibal Rising is a gross excursion into bad melodrama, clumsily cannibalizing everything from war movies and vampire flicks to the previous Hannibal films. To call the film's tone uneven would be kind and to consider the lead actor's performance anything close to acceptable would require greater hyperbole than I can produce. There are, however, laughs to be had - all of which are unintentional. Even the movie's self-important style can provide chuckles, but the real humor comes from the overacting and the absurd plot contortions. Not since Kevin Costner's The Postman has a "serious" movie ventured so far into unintentional comedy. In the history of Dino DeLaurentiis motion pictures, this one is second-worst, beaten only by the crapfest of King Kong Lives.

Hannibal Rising is the "origin story" for Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel). It begins in 1944 with Hannibal losing his mother and father in a battle between a Nazi airplane and a Russian tank. Shortly thereafter, he and his sister are captured by a group of hungry marauders who decide that their best source of nourishment is to eat Hannibal's sister. The story picks up eight years later in Paris, where an older Hannibal locates his uncle's widow. Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li) invites him into her home. She soon teaches him the way of the sword while he teaches her the way of his sword (nudge nudge wink wink). But his goal in France isn't to boff his aunt - it's to locate the bad guys who dined on his sister (sorry, no fine bottle of chianti involved) and eat their faces. Going into full Charles Bronson mode, he opens up a can of Death Wish on them. A French police inspector (Dominic West) is hot on his trail, but is too late to stop Hannibal from escaping overseas to his eventual encounter with Jodie Foster.

Based on his performance in A Very Long Engagement, I would have never guessed that Gaspard Ulliel had it in him to act this badly. His performance careens from lifeless to campy with little ground in between, and there always seems to be a smile on his face. One might be willing to accept that he looks nothing like Anthony Hopkins had he brought anything except ridicule to the role. As for the other lead: I'm glad that Gong Li is getting more international exposure via English-speaking parts but I have to believe that her limitations with the language caused her to misread the script. There's no other explanation for why she would appear here, once again playing a Japanese woman. She is, however, Hannibal Rising's saving grace. Her acting is about as good as one could hope for in these circumstances and, at age 41, she is stunning. One other note: you know you're in trouble when comedic actor Rhys Ifans is one of the villains.

It would be interesting to know how Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring) became involved in this misbegotten project. His work appears to be that of a director for hire. There's no style evident. Meanwhile, Hannibal's creator, Thomas Harris, has apparently elected to destroy his creation during this outing. Not only does he postulate an absurd reason for the character's later psychosis but he provides an individual who is so at variance with the Anthony Hopkins version that we can't believe they're supposed to be the same man. It would have been better to give the character another name. It wouldn't have made Hannibal Rising any better, but it would have prevented The Silence of the Lambs from suffering guilt by association.

Hannibal Rising (France/United Kingdom/United States, 2007)

Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-09
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1