March 29, 2012

Mirror Mirror

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Mirror Mirror

FANTASY/ADVENTURE:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-03-30

Running Length:

1:46

MPAA Classification:

PG

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Danny Woodburn, Sebastian Saraceno, Martin Klebba, Ronald Lee Clark

Director:

Tarsem Singh

Screenplay:

Melissa Wallack & Jason Keller

Cinematography:

Brendan Galvin

Music:

Alan Menkin

U.S. Distributor:

Relativity Media

Subtitles:

none


Mirror Mirror is the latest attempt to rework the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," into something new, adventurous, and appealing to 2012 movie-goers. The result is mixed: the affable, family-friendly motion picture is lively enough to engage young viewers but will prove something of a challenge for anyone who has gone through puberty. The changes to the source material are numerous but most contribute little that's positive to a story that seems to be on auto-pilot. Tarsem Singh (here working under the third iteration of his name, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar) brings his usual visual flair to the proceedings, but that's not enough.

Mirror Mirror is essentially a live-action Snow White and the Seven Dwarves crossed with Time Bandits. The end result could have benefitted greatly from more of the latter and less of the former. The seven dwarves - Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grum (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba), and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark) - are played by little people and represent the most interesting characters in the story. Instead of being miners (no "Hi Ho, It's off to Work We Go," although I suppose Disney owns the copyright to the song, anyway), they're bandits. Snow White (Lily Collins), an exiled princess, becomes their leader after she's offered their hospitality (such as it is) while seeking shelter in the dark forest. Meanwhile, the Wicked Queen (Julia Roberts) who sent Snow into exile (because of the "who's the fairest of them all" nonsense) is plotting to marry Snow's One True Love, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). She wants his money and, to win his hand, she tells him Snow is dead and gives him a love potion.

In a sense, Mirror Mirror suffers from being a jack of all trades, master of none. Its fantasy/adventure sequences, which feature sword fights and a dragon-like monster, are pedestrian and not the least bit engaging. Its romantic elements are stilted and unconvincing. Any drama is d.o.a. And the comedy is sporadic and often juvenile. Other than Singh's visual showiness, there's not a lot here to captivate teenagers or adults. The movie works best with viewers between the ages of 8 and 11, mostly girls.

The acting is adequate for the material. Lily (daughter of Phil) Collins, making her first starring turn in a feature film, is lithe and attractive, but she doesn't leave much of an impression as the warrior/robber leader princess. Blame it on the sumptuous wardrobe, which overshadows her. I suspect she may be like Ann Hathaway, who blossomed as soon as she was allowed to move beyond the juvenilia that trapped her in her early career. Julia Roberts understands the tone - she's arch enough to be amusing but there's sufficient menace in her performance that it doesn't come across as excessively campy. Her asides during the otherwise boilerplate introductory narration, which are delivered with the perfect tongue-in-cheek inflection, represent some of Mirror Mirror's best writing. Armie Hammer gamely plays the "damsel in distress" role in reverse - he becomes ensorcelled, needs rescuing, and spends significant chunks of the movie half-naked. The actors playing the dwarves are all fine and do a good job with occasional Three Stooges mimicry, but there are some differentiation issues - something that was never a problem with Snow White's animated companions.

Perhaps the overriding problem with Mirror Mirror is that it mines territory so overworked that there's nothing new or valuable to be found. Despite occasionally witty lines and eye-catching visual quirks (delivered in delightful 2-D), Mirror Mirror seems like the tired and recycled material it essentially is. The animated version is universally regarded as a treasure and a classic, and it is still popular among children today. There's no legitimate reason for a re-invention unless it's to do something radical. But "radical" seems far from the minds of Singh and his screenwriters. If their intention was to provide a version of Snow White that will hold the attention of young school-age girls, they have succeeded. If they were hoping for something more ambitious, it didn't make the transition from idea to actuality. Mirror Mirror isn't bad cinema, but it's only worth the price of admission as a way to distract a child - and there are better options for that.

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