Julia Roberts hams it up in new hit-or-miss spin on old fairytale
Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins & Armie Hammer
Directed by Tarsem Singh
106 min., PG
Release date March 30, 2012
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
The answer, of course, is Snow White, the fair-skinned maiden foretold by a magic looking glass, menaced by an evil queen, poisoned by a spiked apple, and—perhaps most memorably—championed by seven benevolent dwarves.
All the story’s elements are present and accounted for here, but they don’t quite fall into the old, familiar notches in this version’s intentionally off-kilter, revisionist spin, which basically uses the traditional fairy-tale framework as cinematic scaffolding on which to build a very expensive, movie-length comedy skit.
Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not so funny, and sometimes it’s excruciatingly un-funny.
Julia Roberts hams it up as the wicked queen, so jealous of her royal stepdaughter’s legendary beauty that she can’t rest until she’s figured out a plan to get rid of her. “The Blind Side” actress Lily Collins, daughter of rock singer Phil Collins, plays the put-upon princess, who breaks out of her shell after hooking up with the dwarves.
Armie Hammer, who memorably portrayed duel roles (the Winklevoss twins) in “The Social Network”), is the dashingly handsome Prince Alcott, caught in the comedic tug of war between the queen and Snow White. Nathan Lane gets maximum laughs from his role as the queen’s bumbling, long-suffering servant.
As for the dwarves…well, don’t expect Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy and the other iconic, hi-ho, hi-ho, off-to-work-we-go miners. These little people are named Grub, Butcher, Grimm, Chuckles, Napoleon, Half Pint and Wolf, and they’re all displaced blue-collar tradesmen, forced into a life of woodland banditry after the queen boots them to the hinterlands as “undesirables.”
The dwarves wear pantaloons with telescoping, stilt-like legs to make them look like giants. The queen gets beauty treatments with pigeon poop. The prince drinks a potion that makes him think he’s a puppy.
There are numerous other twisty tweaks to the story, often with wink-wink contemporary overtones. There’s a subplot about a terrifying forest monster, connected to the taxes the queen demands from her subjects under the ruse of maintaining their defense. When headstrong Snow White refuses the prince’s valiant offer to rush to her aid, he argues that she’s “messing with tried-and-true storytelling! It’s been focus-tested—we know it that works!”
Too many things don’t work, unfortunately, in this cavalcade of hit-and-miss shtick. Kids may like the swordplay, the computer-generated monsters, and the wisecracking dwarves. But grownups will find themselves making comparisons to other films, like “Shrek,” “Puss in Boots” and “Tangled,” that have done far better jobs of taking fresh jabs at old lore.
Too much of this fractured fairy tale’s humor falls flat, too many jokes land with heavy thuds, and too many of the resulting cracks make “Mirror Mirror” too much of a chore to truly sit back and enjoy.