Oh, what a letdown! It’s hard to believe how disappointing this film is. Especially considering that, like millions of people, I loved its predecessor “The Silence Of The Lambs” (the novel and the 1991 film), and I also enjoyed the “Hannibal” novel. Now comes the film, and it’s a spectacular failure. It’s indulgent, it’s preposterous and, as if lacking the psychological finesse of the Thomas Harris book wasn’t offence enough, the movie is also often downright boring; it’s not even enjoyable as the silly, grotesque nonsense that it is.

First of all, there’s absolutely no focus. Never mind the title, this isn’t Hannibal’s movie, nor Clarice’s. It’s just this and that, and tata. Granted, the novel was also quite spread around, simultaneously following characters in Italy and Washington D.C., but it was done with skill and intelligence. Taking place 10 years after “Lambs”, it was established early that this wasn’t quite the same game. Last time, Clarice Starling was a student, an FBI rookie, sent to interview a dangerous convict, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, brilliant psychiatrist and gourmet cannibal. Most of the film’s key moments revolved around the pair’s tense conversations in a dark, creepy mental hospital. This time, Lecter is out of his cage, leading a luxurious life in Florence, where he’s applied for the position of curator in a historical library. The previous curator, well, he disappeared… Which brings in detective Pazzi, who’s investigating the case and will soon find out that not only might this Dr. Fell here be involved, he might be a fugitive whose face can be seen on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list…

Meanwhile in the US, Clarice Starling is still with the FBI, more experienced and headstrong, but still not quite over her encounter with Lecter. Adding to her worries is the pressure she’s getting from her bosses after a botched drug and weapons raid in which she shot dead five people… Plus there’s Ray Liotta as a jerk from the Justice Department out to get her, and she might have gotten demoted completely if it wasn’t for bizarre millionaire Mason Verger, who uses his influence to put her back on the Lecter case. You see, Verger was one of the good doctor’s victims, the only one who survived. He still has the scars to show for it, horrible, horrible scars, all over the deformed lumps of flesh that constitute his face. No need to say that he’s out to get revenge on Lecter. He’s put a 3 million $ reward out for anyone who’ll bring him in… Alive. Just killing him would be too kind. Verger wants to make him suffer, with the help of some gigantic man-eating pigs…

So as I said, the novel and the film meander for a long time around these different people, but the difference is that in the book, it’s detailed, textured and fascinating. We delve into the disgusting mind of Verger, a pedophile, an elitist and a hypocrite. We follow Lecter in Florence, as he affords himself the pleasures he was denied during his imprisonment. We get to know the older Clarice, who still can’t get a break. In the film, very little of this comes through. The characters aren’t developed, and the dynamics between them are poorly showcased. It never leaves the surface. Ok, so Lecter is attracted to Clarice. Mason wants to torture Lecter. That’s it, that’s the extent to which the movie motivates the characters and what they go through. It’s hard to believe the film was written by David Mamet and Stephen Zaillian. Whatever they ever knew about screenwriting they must have forgotten.

Director Ridley Scott, taking over from “Lambs” director Jonathan Demme, isn’t doing much better. The movie does look pretty good, with some gorgeous shots of Florence, and some sparks of invention here and there, but overall the film is muddled, bland and unexciting. Out of all the set pieces, the only one that really works is the tightly crafted fish market shoot-out early in the film. Otherwise, there’s plenty of gore, from dogs chewing on a man’s face to people being devoured alive by pigs, a man hanging with his bowels dripping out, the already infamous “brain eating” scene… But none of it is executed with much style, it’s just gross. It’s repulsing, but it isn’t scary. Nothing here approaches the majestic horror Demme brought to Lecter’s escape scene in “Lambs”.

Anthony Hopkins himself is not all that good. As terrifying as he was in the first film, this time around he’s just… blah. It’s roughly the same character, with the precise delivery, soft voice and almost feline demeanour, like a lion waiting to jump for the kill… Yet the essence isn’t there. We don’t feel as we’re witnessing evil or anything, just watching an old guy trying to be scary, hamming it up, uttering trite one-liners. Then there’s Julianne Moore who, as you must know, took over as Agent Starling after Jodie Foster turned down the part. I love Moore, she’s a great actress and she does her best here, but not only can she never make us forget Foster’s brilliant portrayal of the character, she’s also given nothing to work with. The film is badly scripted overall, and Moore’s character is particularly underwritten. She just waits around, types on a computer, does some stupid old Batman series-style investigating (like finding where Lecter hides from the scent of the letter he wrote him)… Ad then she yells a lot, and she gets toyed with by Lecter… It’s a thankless role. Gary Oldman is more memorable as Merger, but it’s not really because of his acting as much as for the brilliant make-up job : you can absolutely not recognize Oldman, he’s totally grotesque. Hey, that pretty much sums up this dull, pointless film. Totally grotesque.