Leading man faces witch-hunt

GILES HARDIE
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
Fairfax Australia

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton on the action heavy retelling of the old Brothers Grimm tale.

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Jeremy Renner is very much the modern action hero. In the past year he has appeared on our screens in three big franchises, scaling tall buildings in a single take, saving doctor damsels in distress and finally taking the Robin Hood out of bow and arrow.

Now, he's a new kind of action hero, the kind that beats up on girls.

Where once chivalry and decorum may have left an actor - and certainly a hero - uncomfortable with an all-female nemesis set, Renner just smiles.

Sure the villains (or should we call them bad gals?) in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters are all witches, which has throughout history been a good excuse for a fatal dunking or campfire, but this time it also means they give just as good as they get, or in Renner's opinion, better.

When he first read the script he says his response was ''It's awesome! When are we going to do that?'' In hindsight, however, he views the fight scenes differently. ''I don't know, most of the time I felt like I was getting beaten up. I don't even remember beating anybody up!''
'You beat up that witch, the red-headed witch, pretty bad,'' says co-star Gemma Arterton.

Renner's not giving in. ''I don't remember it that way.''

''You kick her right in the baby maker!'' exclaims Arterton.

''And then she dumps me in a tree! I lost that one.''

It's a moment of genuine levity in a press tour that has attracted attention for the wrong reasons as often as the right.

The film opened in top spot in North America last weekend, yet has been savaged by critics, and is currently rated at 18 per cent on critical aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.com.

Renner has also come under fire from New York Magazine's Vulture website, which has been reviewing his interview performance over the course of the film's press tour, analysing his body language and answers as he does ''press for a movie he knew was going to do poorly and he probably knew was terrible''.

His publicity effort is given, if anything, a worse review than the film, despite the fact that he is wilting in front of journalists who insist on asking the same three or four questions. Everyone, it seems, wants to know what drew him to the project.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is far from a great movie. A film whose title and poster were enough to capture Renner's interest, fails to adequately capitalise on its own premise.

Oddly self-serious despite some inconsistent comedic moments and possessed of choppy editing and script writing, it warrants every poor review.

Clearly the studios know this, having held it back for almost a year to be released as one of the popcorn movies used as filler during Oscars season for audiences seeking escapism.

For Renner, who walked the red carpet at the film's Australian premiere on Tuesday only hours after his colleagues did the same at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Hollywood, it is perhaps a somewhat less glamorous step on the path to becoming a blockbuster star.

Yet he is not the first to find his own star brighter than a film bearing his name, and he accepts the role with good grace, if not the enthusiasm of Arterton or the salesmanship of P.T. Barnum that Vulture would prefer.

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Still, there is one aspect to the flawed nature of his character in this equally flawed film that he can claim as some reward. Gruff witch-hunter Hansel is cinema's first action hero diabetic.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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