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Psycho doc has a new Clarice but the same murderous cravings in the gory sequel, 'Hannibal'

Friday, February 09, 2001

By Ron Weiskind Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Be careful what you wish for, especially if your assignment, your desire, your obsession is to capture Hannibal Lecter alive. If it -- he -- doesn't come back to bite you, the attempt may leave you eating your heart out. Or worse.


RATING: R for strong gruesome violence, some nudity and language

PLAYERS: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore.

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott.




"Hannibal," the long-anticipated sequel to the Oscar-winning "The Silence of the Lambs," finds no less than three determined parties on the trail of Dr. Lecter, a k a Hannibal the Cannibal. Still on the loose a decade after his escape in the first film, Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) retains his unusual gourmet proclivities.

Otherwise, "Hannibal" differs in great measure from its predecessor, which was a brilliant psychological thriller centered in the probing madhouse conversations between the diabolical Dr. Lecter and the tender young FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster -- who, like Hopkins, won an Academy Award.

Foster, director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally did not participate in the sequel, apparently in disagreement with Thomas Harris, author of the source novels for both films, over the ending of "Hannibal."

In the movie, that ending has changed substantially, although not enough to keep audiences from reacting strongly and viscerally to the proceedings.

The screenwriters, David Mamet and Steve Zaillian, and director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") have served up "Hannibal" as Grand Guignol, an almost operatic stew of horror, black comedy, gore, perverse romance, revenge fantasy and classical meditation on the themes of betrayal and redemption.

I must say that the movie held me in a nice sense of dread for much of its length. But it is by no means the equal of its predecessor.

Director Scott makes excellent use of his visuals, including a long stretch of the film set in Florence, and music. Hopkins is mesmerizing yet again, and Julianne Moore as Starling, a decade older and more disillusioned (with good reason), handles the role admirably.

But Lecter and Starling are not even in the same country, let alone the same room, for much of the picture. By the time they get to play a scene together, the movie has degenerated into a good guys-vs.-bad guys scenario in which you're not really sure on which side most of the participants belong.

The first scene finds Starling caught in a botched drug bust that leaves her teetering over the edge of professional disgrace. She is saved, for the moment, when wealthy Mason Verger (an uncredited Gary Oldman) offers her information on Lecter's whereabouts.

Verger survived an encounter with Lecter, but his face now resembles something Picasso might have painted while drunk. He has his own agenda in regards to finding the doctor. Also hunting Hannibal is Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), a hangdog Italian cop who seems to have escaped from an old film noir. He finds him in Florence.

And then the fun -- well, it's already begun. If anything, this is the beginning of the end. What's delicious about Lecter is watching him play cat and mouse with others. But Clarice becomes bait herself after a while, and then she must decide Hannibal's fate with the ambivalence of knowing what he is but also the nature of his opponents, including the legal system she once trusted.

The movie becomes more outre as it progresses, from the swelling arias to the outrageous climax. At one point, Lecter seals one character's bloody doom by uttering the phrase, "Okey dokey."

The cast's weakest link is Ray Liotta, who finds no subtlety in his role as Justice Department suit Paul Krendler, a male chauvinist pig hoping to destroy Starling's career. As events unfold, we realize subtlety was too much to hope for.

Even Hopkins sinks his teeth into the film with perhaps a tad too much relish. But he still renders Lecter as a chilling, cunning, unforgettable figure. He's the one indispensable element, and the best reason to see "Hannibal."

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