Pig In A Poke

'Hannibal's promise of suspense casts brains before swine.

Everyone likes to have feelings, and what better way to have feelings than to see a film, where we can avoid all the messiness that comes from having our own feelings and just borrow some feelings for a couple of hours. We go to tearjerkers to feel sad, "feel good" movies to feel glad, and horror films to feel scared.

And who doesn't want to feel sad, glad and scared? Because if there's one thing that Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue have taught us, it's that all feelings are special feelings.

Thus, director Ridley Scott, whose stunning visual sensibility has brought us such feeling-rich movies as Alien, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator, has made Hannibal, a film that brings us the much-neglected feelings of boredom and revulsion.

Hannibal is the sequel to 1991 Oscar-winner Silence of the Lambs, a mildly dopey but fast-paced and suspenseful film about a guy who liked to wear human skin. Hannibal picks up 10 years later, in the home of Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), an extremely wealthy man who is obsessed with serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

Remember Lecter? He was the guy in Silence of the Lambs who liked cooking, as long as he was cooking the remains of someone he had just killed. Of course, cooking wasn't his only hobby. He was also very fond of classical music, fine art and evil.

Verger and Lecter had been friends, brought together by their love of perversion and torture. In their last meeting, Lecter had forced Verger to peel off his own face and feed it to a dog, and this kind of ruined their friendship. Verger, in fact, holds something of a grudge over this. Still, he shows a certain fondness for Lecter in that he collects Lecter memorabilia. But Verger is sad, because his collection is lacking one key item: the writhing, bloody body of Lecter himself. Verger wants this more than a Star Trek fan wants the discarded toupée of William Shatner, and he's willing to pay $3 million to get it.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a group of FBI and DEA agents and local police officers are preparing for a drug raid. They're being led by the extremely intelligent Special Agent Clarice Specter. We know Specter is smart because, in the 10 years since she cracked the Jame Gumb case in the movie Silence of the Lambs, she has magically transformed herself from Jodie Foster into Julianne Moore. This is a pretty good move, what with Julianne Moore's star rising as a result of her performances in Boogie Nights and Magnolia and Jodie Foster's star setting due to stinkers like Nell and Contact.

Oddly, for a woman who's smart enough to avoid being Jodie Foster, she's not so smart that she won't spray bullets into a crowded marketplace. This is the kind of thing that the FBI frowns on. Well, at least when it's happening in Washington, D.C. and not in Waco or Ruby Ridge. Thus, Clarice received the harshest punishment that a law enforcement officer can receive: She's assigned to a desk.

Luckily, obsessive/psychotic Mason Verger intervenes on her behalf and gets her the job of hunting down Hannibal Lecter, because insane, evil, disfigured men have that kind of power in Washington.

It's at this point, about 20 minutes into the film, that things take an interesting turn, if by "interesting" one means "really boring and occasionally disgusting." The film is full of long, slow stretches punctuated by the occasional stabbing, dismemberment and evisceration.

It's odd that a film so filled with severed body parts could be so dull, but Hannibal just lacks the kind of directed action to create true suspense. It's too obviously a franchise sequel, so it's entirely clear which characters will die and which will survive to be trotted out for the next installment. It also has an episodic quality, and this really doesn't work for a suspense film, which is supposed to constantly build toward an inevitably climactic confrontation.

The confrontation does occur, of course, and it is utterly disgusting. Oddly, Hannibal is the second film in the last month to feature people being eaten by pigs (the other is Snatch). Is this going to be a new trend, like poop-humor was in the '90s? Was there some sort of meeting of Hollywood moguls where someone said "Poop is out! We need a new sensibility for the new millennium. I propose people being eaten by pigs," and then a bunch of producers and studio heads all cheered and offered a toast to the movie-going public's presumed lack of taste and refinement?

Sadly, the humans-being-eaten-by-pigs sequence is not at all the most revolting aspect of Hannibal. What really brings the film into the gutter is a sequence where a man is forced to eat chunks of his own brain. This is graphically depicted: The camera shows the conscious man's skull being opened, a piece of his brain being sliced off, the brain-bit being sautéed, and the man eating it. I really can't imagine who would want to look at this, but if the Internet's shown us nothing else, it's that there's an audience for anything.

On the upside, Anthony Hopkins is quite charming as Hannibal, in spite of the fact that you keep wishing someone would just kill him and get the film over with. There are also some lovely sequences of misty countryside, but on the whole this is not one of Ridley Scott's more visually appealing films, unless you think human entrails splattering on an Italian piazza are visually appealing.

Where Hannibal really fails, though, is as a suspense and horror film. It's just not very scary. Well, unless you count the prospect that its inevitable box-office success will lead to a slew of movies featuring scenes of pigs eating the brains out of living people. That, indeed, is terrifying.

Hannibal is playing at Century Park (620-0750), Century El Con (202-3343), De Anza Drive-In (745-2240), El Dorado (745-6241) and Foothills (742-6174).

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