This time, there's nothing on the plate. Hannibal Rising, the fifth big-screen showdown between the effete anthropophagus and a declasse world that won't allow him to whip up brain soup like a bloody-lipped Rachel Ray, is a shaky bridge-too-far for the series. It dwells on two origin stories for the character, the first and most promising being a war story in which a mini-Stalingrad blows up outside young Lecter's Lithuanian castle, causing him to lose most of his family in a flash of blood and steel. All that remains is Mischa -- get used to that name, because the film uses it more than Tarantino uses the f-word -- and her big brother, who must grow wits in a war-scarred landscape. The android personality that Anthony Hopkins toyed with is not yet extant; the character is a shell-shocked child with another in tow. We're hardly settled into Saving Private Hannibal, however, when the voice of God -- er, Dino -- demands that we be whisked away to an Oriental atmosphere, to up the odds of boffo international box-office.

The odd contrarian cineaste will swear by Brian Cox's Lecter portrayal in Michael Mann's Law and Order-version of Red Dragon, but the community rightly pounced on Hopkins' take as definitive. His chrome sneer and impenetrable moral surety were a neat catch for a villain, offsetting the smugness and flaccid bon mots that weighed the character down -- and most importantly, there were small doses of everything. Lecter is not well-suited for the main stage. His sheer improbability as a human being demanded that his coming-out party, Hannibal, be a circus tent, with characters like Gary Oldman's old-moneyed, faceless ghoul trying valiantly to out-do a cannibal in a freak-sweepstakes. Cannibalizing Red Dragon for another go-round, this time with a relaxed, Sydney Pollack-attitude and lots of Ed Norton chin-scratching, also did nothing to up the stakes. With Hannibal Rising, the entire franchise screeches to an inglorious halt. It's a high-falutin' slasher film -- think Michael Myers holding a glass of sherry and reading leather-bound Wordsworth by the fire, and you get an idea.