Julia Roberts chews up the scenery and spits it back out again with great brio in her first truly villainous role as the evil Queen in "Mirror Mirror."
And oh, what scenery it is. After all, this is a film from Tarsem Singh, director of such spectacular spectaculars as the trippy "The Cell" and last year's dreary "Immortals." Basically, the scenery IS the movie - and the costumes, of course, from the late Eiko Ishioka. They dominate every moment of this cheeky, heavily tweaked version of "Snow White," but at least they're a marvel to watch.
They'd better be, because the dialogue and the action are, for the most part, rather dull and weirdly devoid of energy.
This anachronistic, genre-hopping fairy tale - I swear, there's a "George of the Jungle" joke at one point - comes from screenwriters Marc Klein and Jason Keller from a story by Melisa Wallack. It begins with the beautiful, innocent Snow White (Lily Collins, daughter of Phil), who's just turned 18, trapped in her bedroom in a castle perched high on a precipitous cliff. Her father, the King (Sean Bean), set off into the woods one day long ago and is presumed dead; her stepmother, the Queen, has taken over the kingdom and tyrannically transformed a place that was once merry into a wasteland of poverty and strife.
The Queen's right-hand man is the butt-kissing Brighton (Nathan Lane), who keeps trying to tell her she's broke, but she won't listen. All she cares about is her status as the fairest of them all, which she reinforces by visiting a mirror housed in a thatched hut hidden dramatically in the middle of a dark, isolated lake. (That Tarsem is an imaginative dude, we cannot deny that.)
But fortunately, into her kingdom comes the young, gorgeous, single and (more importantly) wealthy Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer in a perfect bit of casting; he seems game to make fun of his all-American good looks). The Queen tries to woo him with a lavish ball, but the Prince only has eyes for Snow, whom he'd encountered briefly in the forest earlier that day when neither of them realized the other was, you know, royal. (The wedding she plans for him looks like something that could take place in the Capitol of "The Hunger Games," with its foppish guests dressed in garishly colorful, over-the-top costumes and makeup.)
When the Queen tries to have Snow killed out of jealousy, the young beauty escapes and makes a new home with the Seven Dwarves, who get actual back stories and some of the film's funnier lines. None of them is named Dopey or Doc, but they do give Snow a tough-girl makeover, complete with the obligatory training montage.
Collins has a lovely screen presence - she's got this young Audrey Hepburn thing going - but she lacks a certain oomph, even after her character has learned to fight and supposedly found her inner strength. Roberts rules her at every turn, even when she flashes that iconic smile in cruel fashion. She seems to be reveling in playing a role that's such a departure; that sense of joy only sporadically finds its way to the rest of the film.
"Mirror Mirror," a Relativity Media release, is rated PG for some fantasy action and mild rude humor. Running time: 106 minutes. Two stars out of four.