Something stinks, and it’s not freshly cooked liver.
Realize “Red Dragon” was not made because producer Dino De Laurentiis felt he owed the fans of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Hannibal” an introduction to Hannibal Lecter’s pre-Clarice days. Instead, “Red Dragon” is in theaters only because most moviegoers weren’t paying attention when it was released back in 1986 under the name “Manhunter” and starred Dennis Farina, Joan Allen and a bunch of other people who aren’t famous anymore. And when moviegoers aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to squeeze another few bucks out of them.
The plot of this half-eaten, rotting torso of a film is familiar to anybody who’s seen “The Silence of the Lambs.” An FBI agent seeks the help of hungry, hungry Hannibal – a brilliant psychiatrist who can work wonders in the kitchen – to catch a different kind of psycho before he kills again. Did I say “familiar”? Make that “identical.”
Ted Tally, who wrote the screenplay for both “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” fails to evoke the suspense of the original. Anybody who’s seen a detective-chasing-psychopath movie before knows what’s going to happen. Furthermore, the characters are poorly developed, like the socially inept Norman Bates homage/rip-off killer, or his girlfriend Reba, who the audience is asked to pity apparently on the sole basis of her being blind.
“Dragon” also lacks the jaw-dropping shock value of the disappointing “Hannibal,” which at least subjected audiences to a man eating his own brains in lieu of a decent cinematic experience. The only scene in the film guaranteed to make the audience feel uncomfortable involves not the murder of whole families, but poor blind Reba going down on her psychopathic paramour.
The film’s greatest sin, however, lies in its reduction of Hannibal Lecter, once the image of unflinching evil, to the role of a joke cracking old fuddy-duddy. The audience sees Lecter in a flashback – with a ponytail, no less – gleefully serving friends the skillfully prepared entrails of a lousy flautist in a scene played more for laughs than for chills. Lecter even uses the word “oodles.” The transformation of Lecter into a smarmy antihero is unsettling at best. Anthony Hopkins should really think twice before the script for the fourth Hannibal outing has him spouting one liners like, “Nice to eat you.”
Edward Norton plays Will Graham, the FBI profiler trailing the killer, who is called the Tooth Fairy and likes to murder entire families and shove mirror shards in their eyes. Although the affable Norton has done great work in “Primal Fear,” “American History X” and “Fight Club,” his role in “Red Dragon” is under par. While he doesn’t embarrass himself like Hopkins, he instills his character with no memorable qualities save a dopey “aww, shucks” expression.
If you want to enjoy “Red Dragon,” remove your skullcap and eat the part of you brain that remembers seeing “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Hannibal” and every other movie that gave you the slightest twinge of suspense. You just might manage to force some surprise.