The big selling point for "Hannibal Rising" is that audiences get to find out why Hannibal Lecter, the serial cannibal immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in three movies, came to be the madman he became.
But this movie may leave you with a couple more "whys," like "Why does Hollywood insist on pulling out Hannibal Lecter for sequels and prequels that squeeze all the scariness out of him?" And "Why did my dumb behind bother to sit through the latest beating of this dead horse?"
Based on Thomas Harris' 2006 novel, "Rising" lets us know that Hannibal the Cannibal's reign of terror isn't his fault. It seems that back in Lithuania circa 1944, a bunch of looting Nazi collaborators (led by Rhys Ifans) took over the lodge where little Hannibal and his younger sister, Mischa, were holed up after their parents were wiped out in a freak explosion. When these men run out of food, they do the only logical thing: They kill and eat Hannibal's sister. And this is where you say, "They shouldn't have done that."
Lecter survives and grows up to be a seething-with-vengeance young man played by the Falco-looking Gaspard Ulliel. He also grows up to be a suave, martial-arts-trained vigilante -- thanks to his Japanese aunt (Gong Li) taking him under her wing. He goes about avenging his little sis by tracking down every last one of those savages and putting them through the same horror.
Yeah, that's all well and good, but it still doesn't explain the oodles of people Lecter would later kill and snack on. Wouldn't he have been done offing and eating people after he was finished with this little homicidal, justice-seeking rampage? I guess for Lecter, people are like Lay's potato chips: You can't eat just one.
With Harris himself writing the script, "Rising" appears to be the most faithful of all the Hannibal Lecter movies. But that still doesn't make it the best. (Call me crazy, but I'm still a "Manhunter" kind of guy.) With director Peter Webber ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") making everything look extravagantly drab, "Rising" is mainly a macabre revenge flick -- "Death Wish" for Goth kids. But the movie has the same amateur-hour mediocrity as that lousy "Psycho" prequel that showed up on Showtime years ago, which showed why Norman Bates was so messed up and why we should have a little bit of sympathy for him.
As a matter of fact, why isn't this movie on Showtime? The performances are certainly direct-to-cable caliber. Ulliel walks around acting like Crispin Glover without the goofy awkwardness. Just like she did recently in "Curse of the Golden Flower," Li wows us -- mostly with her cleavage. Ifans creepily gnashes through so much scenery, I mistook him for Peter Stormare at first. Even Dominic West, who is perfect as a Baltimore cop on HBO's "The Wire," looks like he is purposely doing an Inspector Clouseau impersonation in his portrayal of -- a French inspector.
The least suspenseful -- and therefore, least entertaining -- of the Hannibal Lecter movies, "Hannibal Rising" is a prequel that explains how the monster was born. But I didn't exactly hear people demanding it. Remember, there's a reason no one ever talks about "Butch and Sundance: The Early Days."
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760, firstname.lastname@example.org or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle.