The Over/Under: "Red Dragon" (2002)

Until WUD Film agrees to promote my essay collection on the intricacies of “Anus Magillicutty,” I’m going to post my Over/Under pieces here. 



I’ll save you the suspense and give away the scariest part of “Red Dragon” now:

Could you spot the gaping plot hole? It happens to have a ferret stapled to the back of its head.

I realize I’m opening with a lecture on hair, but come on.  A bald man with a ponytail?  Hannibal is an intellectual, an expert on fine cuisine and an opera buff, yet he somehow lacks the cultural tact to sport a proper hair style? Thankfully we already know Lecter’s insane, otherwise there goes your plot twist. Oh, and the asylum chops that thing off after the first five minutes.

Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but I can’t stand the idea that Hannibal is supposed to be young in this film when he looks twenty years older. With Hopkins being the only one to play the part, it’s tough to get around this, even if the creepy CGI technology of today can give those same twenty years back to The Dude:

“Mind if I do a J?”

But what’s so horrible about casting a younger actor instead?  How could that go wrong?

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll stick with old Anthony Hopkins.  I’d like to think history has taught us a lesson about how awkward a recast can make a movie.  Some dishonorable mentions include:

  • Don Cheadle over Terrance Howard in “Iron Man 2”
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal over Joey from Dawson’s Crack in “The Dark Knight”
  • Clooney over Kilmer over Keaton as Batman (I swear I watch more than superhero movies)
  • How about Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears?”  Before that it was Harrison Ford in “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games.”  Before that, it was Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt for Red October.”
  • Let’s not forget the egregious slap in Daniel Stern’s face with French Stewart as Marv Merchants in “Home Alone 4” 
  • Those sick bastards… You probably already know of a recast in this franchise, with Julianne Moore taking the role of Clarice Starling in the utterly underwhelming “Hannibal.” More on that later. 
  • 
Richard Harris as Dumbledore also comes to mind, but that’s unfair because he passed away.  Besides, Michael Gambon was much better, but that’s because he didn’t look like he needed his wand to support his own body weight. 
  • The real cinematic gold happens when the director tries to embrace the awkwardness.  Take the sci-fi/philosophical clusterfuck, “The Matrix Revolutions,” where Mary Alice stepped in after Gloria Foster’s death.  

Remember when Keanu strolls into the Oracle’s kitchen and just kinda wigs out?  I’m not sure anyone knows/cares what exactly happened there, but Ted — I mean Neo looked more confused than I was.
    What do you mean, Neo? These women are the exact same person.  Now here, take a cookie.

  •  On a different day I would have mentioned Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” but that would concern neither film nor television.  On a side note, I’ve enjoyed two straight months of avoiding Mr. Sheen’s Twitter account.  I’m not jealous of the guy.  It’s just more entertaining killing an eight-ball by myself and talking directly into the bathroom mirror.

What’s so brilliant about Hannibal Lecter as a character — and this is as far as I’ll get toward making any relevant observation here — is that we don’t want him to be crazy, especially when he’s always contrasted with a rotating “monster of the week.” First we got Buffalo Bill, a classic villain in his own right.  And then Ridley Scott gave us… well this…



The actor behind that aborted fetus is none other than Gary Oldman, but you can’t really tell.  Mason Verger, a pedophile and Lecter’s only surviving victim, is one of the reasons why “Hannibal” kinda sucks.  Buffalo Bill has quirks and memorable lines and a bizarre personality.  This guy can barely enunciate and has skin that looks like the fat you cut off your steak.  Ridley Scott felt it was better to up the shock value instead of simply telling a story.  Eating Ray Liotta’s brains was bad enough.   Did we really need to see him feed them to a kid?

Brain eating aside, he’s smart, cultured, and above all else, rather charming.   In 2003, AFI ranked Dr. Lecter as the #1 villain of all time, but I’m not so sure we can call him one.  He proves to be useful in several federal investigations, even when he knows he’s being played.  There’s definitely some good in him, and he spares Clarice’s life on more than one occasion.  So how can a man this brilliant be completely insane?  Maybe I’m just comparing him to Ralph Fiennes here, who might actually beat him at the crazy game.  Fiennes plays Francis Dolarhyde, a delusional recluse who believes he’s the incarnation of a dragon from a William Blake painting:

And he’s pretty damn convincing.  If you think that sounds crazy, apparently Nicolas Cage was in talks for the role at one point.  Oh, and Michael Bay almost directed.  Proverbial bullet, consider yourself dodged.

When you realize that it was released only a year after the underwhelming “Hannibal,” “Red Dragon” seems to have been forgotten.  It’s especially tough when every subsequent Lecter film gets compared to “The Silence of the Lambs” (rightfully so).  Here, Brett Ratner gets it right and lets his actors do their thing.  He doesn’t sign off on terrible pop culture references (X-Men: The Last Stand), and he’s already drawing from solid source material (Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel of the same name).  This might be why “Red Dragon” builds to a logical climax rather than a sword fight on top of the Eiffel fucking Tower.  Sure, wrinkly Hopkins feels out of place, and Harvey Keitel may be really awkward as a federal agent, but this holds up as one of Ratner’s better films. And that’s saying something.  I think.

On second thought, maybe I was a little harsh. Bald men of the world, you rock those long locks of denial.

Rock them hard.

Verdict: OVERLOOKED
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