TAKE A BITE. Go ahead, it'll do you some good—at least according to the movie world's favorite epicurean fugitive from justice, last glimpsed a decade ago savoring human flesh (and earning Anthony Hopkins an Oscar for the role). The years have been good to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, but the world has changed during the interim. Once it was his self-appointed position to psychoanalyze and bait FBI agent Clarice Starling, famously trading "quid pro quo" for his services as criminal profiler. She bared her white-trash insecurities to him, conducting therapy through the glass, and he helped her rescue a captive girl.
directed by Ridley Scott with Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, and Giancarlo Giannini opens February 9 at Meridian, Metro, Northgate, and other theaters
This time around there's another girl at stake, but it's Clarice, not some kidnapped coed, who's in jeopardy. Instead of being imprisoned in a gruesome torture dungeon, she's hitting the glass ceiling at her beloved FBI, surrounded by white male assholes who don't respect her, then blame her when a big police bust goes bad. Afterward, we recognize that the usually steely Clarice is in the midst of career and personal crises because she reacts by bursting into tears. (So much for the strong heroines of past Ridley Scott films such as Alien and Thelma & Louise.)
The supposedly hard-boiled investigator incapable of reading clues about herself is clearly a case of alienation and denial, while Lecter radiates sensual self-indulgence. Art, music, wine, food, flesh—it's all meant to be enjoyed, part of the inescapable carnality of existence. He's a connoisseur, she's clinical—so again each has to teach the other a little something in this continuation of The Silence of the Lambs' tutorial relationship. Then, Hopkins and Jodie Foster shared considerable face time together, and the 1991 movie's five Oscars attest to how the actors' chemistry made the film a smarter-than-average horror movie.
UNFORTUNATELY, revenge-flick formulas get the best of Hannibal. First, we meet one of Lecter's hideously disfigured surviving victims, an ultrarich pedophile who deserved what he got but comes across like a lisping old-school Bond villain. Unwisely aided by a local cop (Giancarlo Giannini), he manipulates Clarice's superiors to flush Lecter out of his posh Florentine refuge. We fidget during long stretches of police procedural stuff (fingerprints, videotapes, missing evidence), waiting for eruptions of gore that are, surprisingly, rather few and tame: Lecter only just outpaces Clarice in the body count, since she kills at least six people herself! (It's also a sign of Hannibal's laziness that Web searches routinely advance the plot, while Clarice's turning in her gun and badge screams TV movie.) Meanwhile, back in DC, Something Wild's Ray Liotta is a lecherous FBI honcho undermining Clarice's efforts.
Soon enough, Lecter, too, begins to look like a victim, and as in Lambs, we root for him. "I hate rude people," he declares, but he hates traitors more. Naturally, then, he takes an interest in Clarice's professional woes, while also reminding her of the husband and children she might've had sans career. Again he preys on her fears that she's not smart enough, not pretty enough, not feminine enough. Filling Foster's running shoes, The End of the Affair's Julianne Moore makes for a more brittle Clarice, one whose hot-and-cold behavior is probably explained by the committee-written script (by David Mamet and Schindler's List's Steve Zallian). When she says of Lecter, "He's always with me, like a bad habit," you groan in sympathy for the actress.
For his part, in white suit, shades, and Panama hat, Hopkins often looks uncomfortably close to Truman Capote, almost making a caricature of his part. There's credible tension between Lecter and Clarice, but it's more paternal than erotic. Entertaining, if unsurprising, less scary than sexist, the lavish, overlong Hannibal has its rogue psychiatrist symbolically seek to make a woman of Clarice. Whether or not she agrees to dine at his table, each succulent morsel of food symbolizes the disinhibition that could lead her from the Bureau's confines and into Lecter's broader, grown-up world of pleasure.