By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Terrible things are happening in the kingdom. Poverty, eternal winter, exorbitant taxes … but that’s nothing next to the pandemic lethargy that’s afflicted every last shard of this particular Mirror Mirror. But let’s not blame Julia Robert’s pernicious Queen. Rather, it’s Tarsem Singh’s flaccid direction, hindered by the lackluster screenplay (Marc Klein and Jason Keller) and story (Melisa Wallack) that deserves a royal condemnation of the highest order.
After flatly intoning lines with little comic spark, the actors hold for laughs, as if they were on stage. Players aimlessly ramble out of the frame, as if they, too, were extras gathered on some theater’s proscenium and had just been instructed to exit into the wings. While costumes are inventive, given the empty characters that they adorn, we can only appreciate the outrageous silks, satins and feathers so much.
Singh, who’d previously directed such non-comedies as Immortals, The Fall, The Cell, was supposedly the optimum choice. The film’s producer Bernie Goldmann crows, “Tarsem was the perfect filmmaker to direct this film … There’s no one else like him.” Is Mr. Goldmann suffering under some spell as well?
And though there’s no need to, um, spell it out, this film conveys the usual Snow White tale, introduced in voiceover by the Queen as we watch creepy, porcelain-like dolls enact a slight back story of a vanished king, his lovely daughter and his second wife, i.e., Roberts’ Queen. Back to live action, we meet the beautiful princess Snow White (Lily Collins), dressed to kill but otherwise treated poorly by her pathologically vain, stepmother Queen. Enter the sweet but vapid Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), hailing from a neighboring, moneyed kingdom, who just may be the Queen’s answer to both her empty coffers and empty bed. But first, the Queen has to get Snow White out of the way, ordering the trusted servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) to eviscerate the girl. He fails and sets her free in the forest, where the dwarves find her, blah blah blah.
Whoever created the snappy promotional work for the lead-up to this release should have been hired on for the movie itself, banishing this group of filmmakers to some kingdom far, far away. But no. And so we have to contend with characters who are inadequately sketched. Collins’ Snow may be pretty, but what has she been doing with herself in the ten years since her daddy vanished? Moping? Skulking? Only when Mare Winningham’s Baker Woman suggests it, does it occur to the princess to investigate the doings in her own kingdom. Only when the dwarves advise it, does she consider learning how to fight and stand on her own. When the filmmakers finally allow her to mouth an empty line in the third act about rescuing herself, it comes much too late to carry any weight.
As for the unfortunate Ms. Roberts, who’s no comedic slouch, she endeavors to play against type with a low-key characterization. But the choice backfires, giving off the impression of an actor at a first table read, mumbling the lines before committing to any kind of full-blown performance. Additionally, her mid-Atlantic accent is inconsistent – she often drops it when she tries to deliver a joke.
Funnyman Nathan Lane bombs out as well, attempting his usual comic tics with a script that allows him such brilliant bon mots as, “I always cry at weddings.” At least Armie Hammer gets a shot at some physical comedy, particularly when he falls under a bumbled spell and inadvertently turns into a hyperactive hound. His engagement with the dwarves (all seven seemingly trying to rise above the slack direction) is perhaps the least annoying in this tedious Grimm tale.
This is such an all-around miss, we wish we could wave some magic wand and get a re-do. Fascinating topics such as the younger woman threatening to take over an older woman’s job have been around as long as Eve – make that All About Eve – and still resound today. Vanity, ageism, December-May romances, faltering economies due to greed at the top … what a cornucopia. And what a wicked, wicked waste.
In short: We are not enchanted.
Rating on a scale of 5 rotten apples: 1.5
Release date: March 30, 2012
Directed by: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Screenplay by: Marc Klein and Jason Keller
Story by: Melisa Wallack
Based on the fairy tale by: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Michael Lerner, Sean Bean
Running Time: 106 minutes