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Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/20/04 20:21:45

"Needs something more, but what we get's still good."
3 stars (Just Average)

I find myself mildly underwhelmed by “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” much to my surprise. Oh, the movie is a good one, to be sure, but perhaps expectations were running too high, making me leave the film feeling as if there could have - should have - been more.

The problem lies, I think, in the filmmakers’ decision to combine three books into one film, the result being a movie too slapdash, uneven, episodic in an unfulfilling manner. I can understand the decision; each book in the “Unfortunate Events” series is too short to make into a movie all by itself. But cramming the first three books (“The Bad Beginning,” “The Reptile Room,” and “The Wide Window,” for those keeping score) into one movie that runs just a smidge over ninety minutes doesn’t quite work, either. Despite the best efforts of scripter Robert Gordon (“Galaxy Quest”), what we have here is a picture that feels like three episodes of a TV series edited together. The teeny pieces that get passed off as a running thread throughout the plot don’t hold very well, and the disjointed nature of the overall screenplay becomes somewhat annoying. The finale is the most distracting, an ending that feels tacked on merely as a way to wrap everything up for those who can’t be bothered to wait for the sequel.

(I have a handful of other problems with the ending as well, but not much else can be said without spoiling. So let’s just leave it with a “the finale’s the worst part,” and move on.)

Having said all that, I still liked it. Had a right good time. There’s a lot to love about this Edward Gorey-by-way-of-Tim Burton comedy dreadful, mostly the way it, like the books, revel in the deliciously sinister. This is a feast of over-the-topness, and not even Jim Carrey’s mugging, the adorable baby, or the sheer PG-ness of it all can dampen the dark glee.

Yes, this is one of those movies where Carrey ignores why we love his low key work and groan at his hammier stuff. But here, the hammy stuff kinda works anyway. Carrey, playing the villainous Count Olaf, brings to the film a sense of much-needed winkingness. By clowning around as much as he does, he lets the younger viewers know that all this doom and gloom is all in good fun. He reminds us that this story is wicked, but it’s a safe wicked. So when characters wind up dead, as they so often do here, it’s doesn’t frighten, but cause a chuckle.

The pomposity of it all stretches into the production values, where everything looks like the inside of Danny Elfman’s head. And while it feels like director Brad Silberling is always trying way too hard to be Burtonesque, the look of the film is so delightful that the forcefulness of its goth never hurts the final product. “Unfortunate” is above all else a showcase for the production team; while the story comes and goes, the look, sound, and feel of the movie is so spot-on that this becomes one of those wonderful films that’s just a treat to sit back, tune out the plot a tad, and soak in the tone.

I’m hoping that when the sequel rolls around (and with a movie built for blockbuster success, of course there’ll be a sequel), the filmmakers will have found a way to streamline the plot into something more fulfilling, an adventure with more focus. Until then, however, I suppose I’ll make do with what we have, an uneven yet captivating bit of the ghoulish and the bleak, with kids.

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