You might think the easiest way to kill someone would be to hide in places they're known to frequent, and get the drop on them when they least expect it. All the better if they don't know you're after them. "Hanna," about a little girl trained as an expert assassin (Saoirse Ronan), tells us otherwise. It's much better to announce where you are, get arrested, be taken to a secret, impenetrable underground bunker, kill a bunch of people, escape, hike across a desert, hitch a ride with a tourist family in Morocco, go on a date with some boys, let slip where you're headed, and make your way to Europe. There's plenty of time for assassinatin'.
"Hanna" is one of those movies that seem to exist primarily because it has an eccentric premise. In this case a little girl (Ronan, with eyebrows clipped to give her a slightly feral look) has been raised by her father (Eric Bana) alone near the Arctic, the better to hone hand-to-hand combat abilities, learn multiple languages and study how to live off the land (more on the usefulness of that skill later). This is all so she can murder the family enemy, a high-ranking American spy (Cate Blanchett) who killed Hanna's mother (Olivia Williams) back in the day. If you're wondering why Bana's character couldn't have simply left Hanna with a caretaker years ago to do the deed himself, you're obviously not properly awed by the notion of an eerily beautiful little girl snapping necks and executing kill shots with a Glock.
Oh, you will be awed, even if the movie has to climb the Mount Everest of nuttiness to do it. Hanna evidently has never seen electricity, but somehow the cabin is connected to the world by a special box with a red button that, when depressed, alerts the CIA. Of course Hanna can't resist pressing the button, which summons a huge team of captors (international borders be damned). Dad leaves Hanna to be captured, which is all part of the master plan. Where does he go? To meet her in Berlin, of course, where you know those wilderness survival techniques Hanna learned all her life will come in handy. How does he get there? According to the movie, via breaststroke. Things couldn't possibly get any weirder, right?
"Hanna" was directed by Joe Wright, a distinguished visual stylist whose movies often look much better than they actually are. "Atonement" (2007), also starring Ronan, is a more coherent example, a decent period film with Academy-Award-worthy imagery. "Hanna" is pretty, idiosyncratic and completely daft. The movie offers painterly scenes saturated with color and texture evoking the wonder and chaos of adolescence. They're easy on the eyes, but convey action and ideas that are utterly conventional, creepy or lunatic. Hanna just runs, and runs, and runs some more.
The movie attempts to elevate this odyssey to the realm of fairy tale. Dad read them to Hanna in the woods. Blanchett's performance is supposed to make us think wicked witch, or maybe big bad wolf. There's a trippy scene in a rundown amusement park a la "The Lady from Shanghai" — more than one, in fact. But the greater significance is never clear. Who is Hanna supposed to be: Hansel, Gretel or Jason Bourne's kid sister? Before we can figure it out, she's on the run again, exotic house music pumping on the soundtrack.
On a positive note, "Hanna" isn't the dumbest movie Ronan has ever been in. That honor still goes to Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones." If you just like pure action for the fun of it, "Hanna" is about on par with a middling spy vs. spy film. And it does have a more unique look than most. But for a better take on this premise, check out "The Professional" from 1994.
"Hanna" ends with the protagonist's name banging across the screen in huge letters, as if it were a Kane we were learning about and not a blond moppet with a black belt. It's an oddly self-assured sendoff for a movie with no conclusions, except the vague threat of turning itself into a franchise. Would that Hanna knew, and this might have been a better story. At least the girl has an excuse. She's just a little kid. (PG-13) 111 min. S