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Red Riding Hood
Shiloh Fernandez and Amanda Seyfried in "Red Riding Hood" (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The folk tale "Little Red Riding Hood" is a fascinating metaphor for feminine sexual awakening — if you happen to be 12 years old and have never seen "The Howling," "Wolfen," "The Company of Wolves," "The Woodsman," "The Brothers Grimm," "Hoodwinked" or that old cartoon where the wolf wears a zoot suit.

"Red Riding Hood," the latest incarnation of this oh-so-symbolic story, actually had the potential of being something fresh, because it was directed by the femme-centric Catherine Hardwicke, who made the brutally honest coming-of-age movie "Thirteen." But since that auspicious debut, Hardwicke has directed the drab Virgin Mary movie "The Nativity Story" and the turgid first "Twilight" flick. Apparently Hardwicke's been bitten by the rabid curse of Hollywood, because "Red Riding Hood" is such a sorrowful attempt to resurrect the marketing magic of "Twilight" that it ought to be titled "Career Eclipse."

Granted, Hardwicke has a visually distinctive style, which expresses itself in smeary, psychedelic dreamscapes that seem appropriate for this fable. But in the center of this meltdown is a black hole named Amanda Seyfried, whose free ride through our collective consciousness should be ending any second now. Seyfried's only hope is that some of the blame gets shifted to her co-stars, who include a pouty poseur named Shiloh Fernandez as a hunky young woodcutter who wants to trim the forest, Virginia Madsen as a medieval mom and Julie Christie as a Germanic grandma who may or may not be preying upon the village virgins.

Incredibly, the worst offender in the cast could be Gary Oldman, who plays a holier-than-thou werewolf hunter with a terrible Transylvanian accent. His character comes to town to warn the locals that the hound of hell that's been killing their kids is actually one of their neighbors.

Among the recent movie dogs to come sniffing after babysitters' savings, "Red Riding Hood" is a howler.

One and a half stars (out of four) • What "Red Riding Hood" • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:40 • Content violence and some sensuality