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Mirror Mirror (2012)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Little Better Than Fair After All. . ."
4 stars

Once upon a time--well, a couple of years ago--there was a film called "Alice in Wonderland" which was the latest version of a classic fairy tale that was best known to moviegoers from an animated version produced decades earlier by Walt Disney. In order to goose things up so that it might play better with contemporary audiences, the screenplay was a loose adaptation that brought a certain amount of ironic humor to the proceedings and which reconfigured its heroine into a newly empowered, sword-wielding ass-kicker, the cast featured an up-and-coming ingenue in the central role surrounded by more familiar faces camping it up to high heaven and the whole thing was directed by a filmmaker known for his flamboyant visual style. The end result was pretty awful but it did unexpectedly make something like a billion dollars around the world and as a result, every studio went plowing through the ranks of classic fairy tales (especially those unencumbered by copyright laws) in the hopes of finding something that could make that kind of lightning strike twice. That, boys and girls, is the reason why there will be not one but two big-screen iterations of the story of Snow White hitting theaters this year.

"Mirror Mirror" is the first of those projects to arrive in multiplexes (the second, the Charlize Theron-Kristin Stewart vehicle "Snow White and the Huntsman" is currently scheduled to open in June) and it pretty much follows the parameters set by "Alice in Wonderland." Like that film, the screenplay is a loose adaptation of the familiar tale that offers a lighthearted take on the material that is more goofy than Grimm and which offers up a new take on its heroine by eventually turning her into a self-confident warrior who does virtually all of her own rescuing. The cast includes pretty newcomer Lily Collins as the heroine and fills in the other roles with more recognizable names such as Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer and, as the villain of the piece, the one and only Julia Roberts. Entrusted with putting all these elements together while adding a singular visual element to the proceedings is director Tarsem Singh, the man behind such bold stylistic achievements as "The Cell," "The Fall" and "The Immortals." The end result is a film that certainly poses no threat to the classic 1937 Disney adaptation's standing as the definitive film version of the story but its mixture of silly humor and stunning visuals makes for an undeniably appealing, if admittedly uneven, entertainment.

As the basic premise of the story is presumably familiar to anyone old enough to be reading this review, I shall tread lightly in terms of reciting the plot details. Suffice it to say, ever since the disappearance of her father, a wise an benevolent king (whose doom was presumably foretold the minute Sean Bean was hired for the part), the lovely Snow White (Collins) has been a virtual prisoner of her wicked stepmother, the Queen (Roberts), for the next ten years. On her 18th birthday, Snow White sneaks out of the palace to visit the kingdom that was meant to be her birthright and discovers to her horror that the Queen has virtually run it into the ground by imposing egregious taxes on the villagers in order to pay for her lavish lifestyle. While on her journey, she also stumbles upon Prince Alcott (Hammer), a rich young nobleman from a neighboring kingdom who has been waylaid by seven pocket-sized highwaymen that have literally left him and his manservant hanging in the wind. The two go their separate ways and Alcott winds up at the palace where the Queen sees him as the hunky solution to all her problems and prepares to marry him post-haste. However, when she finds out that Snow White has been outside of the palace and has caught the eye of Alcott, she demands that her aide (Lane) take the young one out to the woods and kill her off for good. Needless to say, the flunky cannot bring himself to do it and allows Snow White to escape into the woods where she is found and rescued by the aforementioned dwarves, depicted here as a group of formerly decent types who were banished from the kingdom by the Queen because of their appearance. The dwarves teach Snow White to fight and defend herself and before long, she is leading them into battle in an attempt to overthrow the Queen and save both the kingdom and Alcott, who is under a spell that may only be broken by the kiss of true love.

Whether you enjoy "Mirror Mirror" or not will depend to a large degree on the kind of film that you are hoping to see when you fork over your money for the ticket. If you are in the mood for a cohesive and well-plotted narrative, this will not be your cup of tea because the screenplay is kind of a mess that tries to simultaneously evoke the classic storytelling tropes of fairy tales while simultaneously skewering them with oddball jokes, self-aware commentary and deliberate anachronisms (such as having a character mention that a story has been extensively tested with focus groups). It is possible to merge the two approaches if it is done with a lot of skill but many of the jokes are a little too self-conscious for their own good and often serve to keep viewers at too much of a distance from the story they are meant to be getting involved in. (A better approach might have been to make up an original fairy tale that cheerfully evoked and kidded the classics--the take employed by the likes of "Fractured Fairy Tales" and the lovely-but-underrated "Ella Enchanted.") However, if you the kind of person who prefers stunning imagery over steadfast storytelling--provided that it offers up the kind of sights that are truly unique and not just the usual array of anonymous CGI garbage--then "Mirror Mirror" will come as a true delight because whatever Tarsem Singh's sins as a filmmaker may be in the yes of some, he seems constitutionally incapable of making a film that is boring to look at. Using a combination of elaborate sets, trippy special effects and jaw-dropping costumes from the late Eiko Ishioka (who also supplied the equally dazzling duds for Singh's previous films and to whom this one is dedicated), there is hardly a scene that doesn't contain at least one gorgeous bit of visual business to savor and as a result, this is one of those family-oriented films along the lines "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" or "Labyrinth" that could play equally well at weekend matinees and midnight shows (if either of those things still existed, of course).

Although she has appeared here and there in supporting roles over the last couple of years (most notably as Sandra Bullock's daughter in "The Blind Side"), "Mirror Mirror" marks the first leading performance by Lily Collins (yes, she is the daughter of Phil Collins and yes, I have been doing everything in my power to avoid littering this review with Genesis-related punning) as the sweet, pure and feisty Snow White and as cinematic coming-out parties go, this is a good showcase for her combination of classic movie star beauty and innate charm. The notion of deeming someone "the next Anne Hathaway" is too terrifying to contemplate (especially since there is nothing wrong with the current one) but if that appellation has to be conferred on someone, Collins is as good a choice as any. In their supporting terms, Armie Hammer demonstrates a nice sense of humor and a cheerful willingness to appear in situations bordering on the ridiculous while Nathan Lane succeeds in what might has well have been designate as "the Nathan Lane part" in the screenplay. However, the best performance of the bunch comes from the delightfully scenery-chewing turn (a not-inconsiderable achievement when you consider the amount of scenery on display) supplied by Julia Roberts as the evil Queen. Cutting loose in a manner that has not exactly been known to be her forte while flouncing around in her increasingly elaborate get-ups, she is pretty much a blast throughout and while it is impossible to completely root for her over the likes of Snow White, Roberts makes the Queen so entertainingly evil that I for one found myself hoping that it would at least end in a draw.

"Mirror Mirror" is no masterpiece but I have to admit that I enjoyed watching it for the most part and I suspect that many other will as well. Little girls, especially those deemed too young to see "The Hunger Games," will enjoy watching its combination of silliness and sweetness. Older siblings pressed into service to escort those younger viewers will find themselves pleasantly distracted by, depending on their orientation, the presence of the spunky heroine and/or the hunky hero. Adults, once they get over the shock of realizing that Julia Roberts is now in a position to play the evil stepmother (as opposed to the idiotic stepmother as she did in "Stepmom"), will hopefully find themselves entranced by the knockout look of the film to such a degree that they are willing to overlook its flaws. In other words, this is a film that should leave most viewers feeling happily ever after, at least for a couple of hours or so after seeing it.

RIP Christopher "Slyder" Revilla. . .

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22546&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/30/12 12:53:26
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User Comments

11/13/16 Dr. Lao Can't decide if its a bad comedy or a bad drama 1 stars
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  30-Mar-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 26-Jun-2012


  DVD: 26-Jun-2012

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