HANNIBAL RISING directed by Peter Webber, written by Thomas Harris, with Gaspard Ulliel and Rhys Ifans. An Alliance Atlantis release. 117 minutes. Opens Friday (February 9). For venues and times, see Movies, page 115 Rating: NN Rating: NN
Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs is one of the most deliciously vile movie villains ever. Now, with this cash-grabbing prequel about the young cannibal's childhood, the Lecter we know and loathe has had his feet knocked out from under him.
Other than the name and an occasional indulgence in human flesh, there's little to connect Rising to the previous films in the series.
Unknown Gaspard Ulliel plays the young Lecter. Accent of indeterminate European origin aside, he's a charismatic yet wholly unthreatening lead, never once hinting at the wit and quease-inducing charm of Hopkins's Lecter. Even while he chews a cheekbone, there's little to suggest he's anything more than hungry.
But there's no Chianti and fava beans on the menu for little Lecter, who was orphaned by a Nazi strafing run near his family's Lithuanian castle and forced to survive by eating stale bread, rotting potatoes and soup avec petite soeur.
That's right, the reason Hannibal the Cannibal munches his fellow man is because he was once forced to sup on his little sis. The teenaged Lecter then spends the rest of Rising tracking down the thugs who made the meal, so he can dine some more. One of them, laughably, is found stuffing pheasants in a Saskatoon taxidermy shop.
All of which adds up to the film's crucial mistake: it wants to explain why Hannibal Lecter is the sick fuck he is, when not knowing makes him far more menacing.
For all its criminal profiling psycho-babble, the original Silence Of The Lambs was a B-grade serial killer story (albeit a very good one) draped in the flesh of A-list acting and directing. But now, after a sequel that should have been thrown to the killer pigs it featured and a prequel that was more tasteful than it had any business being (the cheese made it easier to swallow), we're served leftovers from any of a countless number of psycho-revenge thrillers.
Sadly, for a film about a cannibal, it's Rhys Ifans as the soup-making head baddie who chews the most scenery.