Directed by Brett Ratner, starring Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Sometimes the biggest issue is the one hiding behind the issue. When it was announced that Julianne Moore would be playing the role of Clarice Starling in 'Hannibal', people wondered whether she could do justice to the part Jodie Foster had made famous.

But when the film was released it turned out that Moore was its saving grace. What people should have been worrying about was whether the script was any good and if it would be the equal of 'Silence...'. It wasn't and the result was a movie with a decent first half, a very poor second and where Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) was more hero than horror.

Two years on, it seems we've learned nothing from that mistake. When it was announced that Brett Ratner would be making 'Red Dragon', all attention turned to the strength and depth of the cast that had been assembled. But what we should have asked was if there was any need to remake a story which Michael Mann had already filmed so successfully in his 1986 movie 'Manhunter'.

The action takes place before 'Silence...' and finds troubled former FBI man Will Graham (Norton) brought in to track a killer called The Tooth Fairy (Fiennes). With the police drawing blanks, Graham must seek help from the man he put away: Lecter.

It transpires that the Doctor had tried to kill Graham years earlier and is the reason for his exit from the FBI. But with time running out until the series of killings, Graham must face his demon, unaware that his desire to put the past behind him and solve the case will endanger his family.

Ratner's 'Red Dragon' is very faithful - at times painfully so - to Mann's 'Manhunter' and if you've seen the original it's like watching a well-rehearsed covers band. Key scenes and dialogue are recycled, you'll know exactly where every twist should be and the ending will come as no surprise.

Of course, it can be argued that many haven't seen 'Manhunter' or read 'The Red Dragon' book and this will be their first experience of the story. But with such a strong cast why couldn't Ratner and scriptwriter Ted Tally have combined their respect for Mann's film and Thomas Harris' novel with a reworked plot? In the end they went for the solid and safe option.

The person you feel most sorry for is not Norton or Hopkins however, but Fiennes. He is excellent as the daytime misfit turned nocturnal predator, putting paid to many fears that he was too good looking for such an ugly role. His performance is a compelling combination of hate and helplessness and is powerful enough to make you whisper whether Lecter was needed in the film in the first place.

Watching Fiennes it's hard not to feel that Ratner should have given him more to work with. While the history of the Tooth Fairy is expanded here, you always feel short-changed on insights into the character. Instead there are plenty of scenes involving police procedure, which TV shows have now rendered uninteresting. Why not more interaction between Fiennes and the onscreen object of his affection Watson? Their scenes are superb and have a level of tension the Norton-Hopkins encounters can only wish for.

Norton also suffers from a lack of character development. His Graham doesn't have the emotional trauma - the feeling that he's walking a fine line himself between catcher and killer - that was so successfully conveyed in 'Manhunter' and is symptomatic of the film's other major weakness: it's just not scary enough. When Hopkins comes onscreen and people are laughing at the puns instead of hiding under the seat, it seems his character has become too familiar and unable to achieve what he was meant to do in the first place.

With light fare like 'Rush Hour' and 'The Family Man' to his name, it was a possibility that Ratner would make a mess of this film. That however, would be far too harsh a judgement. Despite its shortcomings, it is always watchable, superior to many Hollywood thrillers and has a fine look. It will do great business and will give Ratner the freedom to do any project he so desires. But eventually he too may ask himself whether the most remarkable thing about this film is what it could have been. You will only have to wait two hours for your answer.

Harry Guerin