By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Mirror, mirror, on the screen, who is now the Queen of Mean?
Why, Julia Roberts, that's who!
And that's because her rendering of the villainess in the latest version of "Snow White" is, like the film itself, twisted and fractured and not exactly wonderful but watchable and memorable.
Mirror Mirror, the first of this year's two live-action films based on the "Snow White" story (the other is the heavier, more action-oriented Snow White & the Huntsman, with Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, due in June) is an enchanting, visually splendiferous reimagining of the classic "Snow White" fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
And the PG-rated concoction is sweet enough for kids and ex-kids of pretty much all ages without getting all syrupy about it. Imagine that!
Roberts stars as the psychopathically insecure and beauty-obsessed Queen Clementianna, an enchantress and bully who schemes to gain control of the throne that would otherwise go to the 18-year-old princess, Snow White, her stepdaughter, played by Lily Collins, whom the queen describes as having "skin as white as snow and hair as dark as night."
As for the king, played by Sean Bean, who took off in a time of trouble to save the kingdom, he's long gone and still missing, presumably dead in the haunted forest.
With him away, it's been no problem for the ruthless queen to seize control of the kingdom, having locked the resented and despised princess in her room and told the villagers that her stepdaughter is a deformed monster.
Yep, you're right -- this is not your grandmother's "Snow White."
When the wealthy and affable Prince Andrew Alcott, played by Armie Hammer, visits the bankrupted (thanks to the queen's extravagance) kingdom, the queen decides to marry him. But as soon as he gets a glimpse of Snow White, he falls for the princess and vice versa.
Thus does the jealous and wicked queen, a proponent of dark magic, banish Snow White to the dark forest, ordering her death and intending that the beast that resides there will do away with her.
Nathan Lane plays Brighton, the queen's bumbling servant, who will even come to join the insect world (don't ask). He is ordered by the queen to murder Snow White, but he takes her to the forest and lets her go.
That's when a band of seven forest-dwelling little people -- not noticeably happy, sleepy, grumpy, dopey, sneezy, bashful or in need of a doc -- who are highway robbers by trade, rescue her and train her to fight back.
Now, Snow White, turning into a proactive princess, has the rebellious bandit-dwarf allies -- and the means -- to reclaim her birthright, rescue the villagers from poverty, and win back the prince from the queen.
Indian director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals), a visionary who doesn't always treat dedicated storytelling as a priority, presents yet another highly stylized, lushly shot, and lavishly costumed world: a cornucopia of eye candy.
But this time, in addition to the brighter-than-bright landscapes and dreamscapes, he indulges in cartoonish, not-quite-right sight gags, and awkwardly broad physical comedy, yet delivers a selfconsciously playful, enjoyable-in-spite-of-itself slapstick romp.
The screenplay, by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller, attempts a grinning spin on the classic tale and succeeds to a point: that is, it's fitfully amusing without really beingh funny.
This director, whose energy goes into visual composition and costuming at the expense of timing and technique, does not have a flair for comedy, even if he does breathe new life into an old tale.
Roberts seems to be having a royal time of it, playing against type as the self-obsessed and sardonic queen, masterfully mixing charm and deviousness.
The dazzling and graceful Collins, who would appear to be a can't-miss future star, gives us an appealing protagonist for this female-empowerment tale.
And Hammer (another can't-miss star-to-be) and Lane make campily cackle-worthy comedic contributions as well.
As for the Bollywood-meets-Hollywood ending, well, it's a questionable directorial indulgence, but it's too late to either damage or rescue the film.
So we'll banish 2½ stars out of 4 for this moderately charming, tongue-in-cheek, woodland fantasy that serves as a revisionist fairy tale, a sophisticated update, and a fair family film.
Think of Mirror Mirror as Grimm without the grim.
for more features.