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Originally published Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 12:05 AM

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‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’: a grown-up tale without the sugarcoating

A movie review of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” an R-rated horror-action-comedy fairy tale that takes the kidnapped kiddies into adulthood. It stars Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Movie Review 1.5 stars

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” with Gemma Arterton, Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola. 86 minutes. Rated R for strong fantasy, horror, violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language. Several theaters.

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An R-rated horror-action-comedy fairy tale — how’s that for genre bending?

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is more Gatling guns and grenades than The Brothers Grimm. It takes the kidnapped kiddies into adulthood, where they’ve parlayed their fame at cooking a witch’s goose into a business. Got a witch problem? Call H & G — the extermination experts.

High-concept pitch or no, the movie doesn’t really work. They were shooting for sort of a witch-hunting “Zombieland,” an F-bomb-riddled “Van Helsing” packed with comical anachronisms — a Bavarian forest past with witch trials, pump shotguns and primitive Tasers, where bottles of milk have woodcut pictures of “missing children” on the labels.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) show up just as the village of Augsburg is about to burn a redhead. “Gingers” were a favorite target of witch hunters. Hansel shrugs this barbaric crime off, but Gretel insists that the locals need “evidence.” That puts them in conflict with the sheriff (Peter Stormare), who can’t get a handle on their “witch plague” and the missing children who come with it. H & G have been hired to do what he cannot.

It isn’t long after Hansel mutters “Anyplace we can get a drink in this hell hole?” that the siblings are on the job, chasing lesser witches in pursuit of the Great Witch, played by Famke Janssen as if the makeup is going to do all the acting for her.

Writer-director Tommy Wirkola focuses on the fights and flings all manner of viscera at the 3D camera as limbs are whacked off and heads and torsos explode. Less attention was paid to the story and the dialogue.

The cleverest touch? Hansel’s mania for candy-covered houses is what landed Hansel and Gretel in that witch’s clutches, all those years ago. Now, he carries an ancient hypodermic needle and takes injections to ward off insulin shock.

The moral of the fairy tale? Lay off the candy or a witch’ll get you.

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