(R) 2 1/2 stars Hannibal Lecter is back and who cares? Do you remember when Dr. Lecter, Hannibal the Cannibal, was scary? The Silence of the Lambs offered our first glimpse of Anthony Hopkins" interpretation of the Thomas Harris character, with Lecter presented, as he should be, in measured doses. Hopkins was sensational and when Lecter delivered the now-legendary line, "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti," followed by that hideous slurping sound, it was terrifying. So terrifying, of course, that it became part of our pop culture lexicon. Everybody, absolutely everybody, can do an impression of Hopkins delivering that line. While this is a testament to his abilities as an actor, it also lessens the effectiveness of the sentence in its original context. Watch that part of the film now - instead of feeling like an obscene outburst from a monster, it plays as one of Hopkins" greatest hits. Hannibal, one of the most unnecessary sequels ever penned, became a bloated, repulsive movie packed with gore-porn. Lecter was given far too much screen time, diluting his impact as a villain even more. Almost as bad was the moronic decision to take the deranged character and try to turn him into an antihero (Producer Dino De Laurentis claimed, "When he"s forced to kill, he kills somebody the audience wants to kill, too," and costar Julianne Moore agreed, saying, "He is the monster everyone wishes they could be."). The prequel Red Dragon brings us full circle, revisiting the first of Harris" three novels to feature Lecter, while ignoring Manhunter, the 1986 film also based on the original book. Dragon introduces Lecter with a relatively clever pre-title sequence. Later, FBI agent Will Graham (Ed Norton), a specialist in serial murder, manages to capture Lecter, although the killer wounds him severely in the process. Years later, Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel in a non-taxing performance) convinces Graham to come out of retirement for a new serial killer case, over the objections of Mrs. Graham (Mary-Louise Parker). Just as happened to a different agent in Silence of the Lambs, Graham eventually ends up visiting Lecter in a Baltimore mental hospital to seek advice. Wow, it"s quid pro quo dÈjý vu. Norton elects to underplay his character, while Hopkins, who at this point could do Lecter in his sleep, trots out all the requisite inflections and mannerisms. Their exchanges are interesting, but far from electrifying. Ralph Fiennes plays Francis Dolarhyde, the serial killer in question. Severely abused as a child, he now is a twisted adult obsessed with the works of artist and writer William Blake. Emily Watson appears as a blind co-worker who touches the compassionate side of Dolarhyde. Dashing about naked, with a huge tattoo of Blake"s art on his back and butt, Fiennes is mildly frightening at best. The tattoo work is intended to shock us, but Harris wrote his book back when body art was uncommon. Watching the movie now, with millions of contemporary youths sporting tattoos, I could think of a number of men with creepier body art than Dolarhyde"s. As in the book, the blind character plays more like a cheap plot device than a person. So where does Red Dragon fit in the Hopkins trilogy? It"s light years better than Hannibal, and nowhere even close to the quality level of Silence of the Lambs. Regardless, the film made a fortune on its opening weekend. Should it continue to thrive, we will, most likely, have to deal with yet another Hannibal Lecter movie. Now that"s scary.