(The following is an extract from a review that ran in the weekly edition of Screen International. For the full review see Screen International, Feb 9-16)

Dir: Ridley Scott. US. 2001. 141mins.

The dark shadow of The Silence Of The Lambs looms large over Hannibal, the eagerly-anticipated sequel to the 1991 Oscar-winning thriller which became a pop culture icon due to Anthony Hopkins' mesmerising turn as Hannibal the Cannibal. It's doubtful that even if Jonathan Demme had directed this follow-up and Jodie Foster had starred in it too, the artistic result would have been much better considering the problematic nature of the project - not just the book's outlandish ending - that faced director Ridley Scott and writers David Mamet and Steve Zaillian. Revisiting his notorious character, the man audiences love to hate, Hopkins renders an elegantly amusing and ironic performance in a movie that's more likely to generate chuckles than thrills. Mixed reviews haven't hurt Hannibal's bonanza ($58m) opening, and overkill marketing by MGM (US) and Universal (international) should help reach Silence's blockbuster numbers, a worldwide figure estimated at $273m.

For a whole decade since Silence's release (in February 1991), movie-goers have been rooting for the return of Hannibal Lecter to the big screen to display his brilliant mind and taste for fine wine, not to speak of his flair for bizarre cuisine. However, there were many hurdles in the rough trip from page to screen. To begin with, Thomas Harris' 1999 bestseller, particularly its romantic ending, was so outrageous it was considered unfilmable. Serious doubts also prevailed as to what extent the public would accept a more compassionate and suave Lecter.

It's therefore good news to report that the nearly impossible task and insurmountable problems have been handled by Scott and his team in a proficient if unexciting manner, resulting in a perfectly watchable, sporadically entertaining movie. Aware that he can't possibly meet viewers' expectations, Scott has made a film that's totally different in tone and style. Hannibal is more florid, baroque and tongue-in-cheek, but not as scary or involving as Demme's movie. If Silence was sharply focused in its psychological thrills, Hannibal is a more diffuse and rambling film, a series of linked set-pieces rather than a tight narrative.

Ten years have passed since Hannibal escaped from custody, and 10 years since FBI agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) interviewed him in a maximum-security hospital for the insane. Living in Florence, Lecter is now pursuing his own interests, savouring the essences of an unguarded world. For her part, Clarice, now an experienced career officer, hasn't forgotten her encounters with Lecter, particularly his unique voice, which continues to haunt her dreams and reality.

The script (more the product of Zaillian than Mamet) throws out the book's climactic Hannibal-Clarice bond, instead steering the plot's focus onto Lecter's only surviving victim, vengeful millionaire Mason Verger (an unrecognisable, uncredited Gary Oldman). Hideously disfigured, with no eyelids and no hair, Mason is a knot of bulging eyes, twisted lips and blistered, suppurating skin. The solitary heir to his family's fortune, he's obsessed with revenge to which he's willing to commit his wealth and influence. However, after several futile attempts, Mason realises that to draw Lecter out into the open, he must dangle an irresistible bait, Clarice, the only person Lecter can't resist.

Prod cos: Dino De Laurentiis/Scott Free production. US dist: MGM.Int'l dist: Universal. Exec prod: Branko Lustig. Prods: Dino and Martha De Laurentiis. Scr: David Mamet, Steve Zaillian, based on Thomas Harris' novel. Cinematographer: John Mathieson. Prod des: Norris Spencer. Ed: Pietro Scalia. Mus: Hans Zimmer. Main cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri.

(The above is an extract from a review that ran in the weekly edition of Screen International. For the full review see Screen International, Feb 9-16)