As the title of Mirror Mirror suggests, two sides battle for our attention.
A smothering visual style comes courtesy of former music video director Tarsem Singh (“Immortals”), whose priority is production design, costumes and effects. But at its core, Mirror Mirror is a comedy. The screenplay by Melisa Wallack and Jason Keller is — at least on paper — a clever spin on the Brothers Grimm classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The actors are caught somewhere in the middle of this quirky, unsatisfying film — a fractured fairy tale that alternates between amusing and infuriating with each new scene.
Still the fairest of them all, Julia Roberts portrays the Queen, who insists in the opening narration that we are witnessing the familiar story from her perspective. With the aid of a magic mirror, she has taken over a perpetually snowy kingdom and home-schooled its rightful ruler into submission. Said ruler is Snow White (Lily Collins of The Blind Side), and on her 18th birthday she takes a trip outside the castle to discover her subjects suffering poverty and “icy despair.”
Meanwhile, a handsome prince (Armie Hammer of The Social Network) runs afoul of seven thieving dwarfs on his journey to her castle. Charmed by his looks and wealth, the Queen plans to make the prince her fifth husband.
“Time for me to get rich … I mean hitched,” she quips.
But Snow White stands in the way, forcing the malicious monarch to take a more proactive approach toward ridding the kingdom of this potential adversary.
Since winning a 2000 Oscar for Erin Brockovich, Roberts has struggled to land a role that takes advantage of her earthy charm. “Mirror Mirror” is yet another awkward fit. She certainly looks the part and is plenty funny with her offhand barbs (she chides Snow White’s parents for bestowing the girl with “the most pretentious name they could come up with”).
But Roberts never sells the “evil” part of this evil Queen. Just compare her to Charlize Theron in the trailer for the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman to see how to render a genuine villain.
Collins isn’t quite right either; her eyebrows are more filled out than her personality. She’s better as an Audrey Hepburn-style royal innocent a la Roman Holiday than she is when called upon to transform into a sword-wielding insurgent.
Faring the best is Hammer, who is noticeably more comfortable than in his campy J. Edgar role. He embraces the fundamental tone of the script, managing to balance humor with his intrinsic duties as a swashbuckling prince.
Director Singh’s eccentric visuals are meant to enhance the fantasy setting but continually detract from the comedy. From an animated intro in which the characters look like porcelain statues to a fight scene involving killer marionettes, Singh has an undeniable eye for oddity. Yet all these images really do is call attention to themselves. (His project will garner plenty of comparisons to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland — not entirely a compliment.)
Mirror Mirror is possibly the first movie to combine the two worst ways to keep people watching during an end credit sequence. There’s an Animal House-type montage of what careers the dwarfs pursue. This is followed by Collins leading the entire cast in a music video of the Nina Hart song I Believe in Love.
It’s another Grimm reminder of stylistic overkill.
Cast: Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane.
Director: Tarsem Singh.
Screenwriters: Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller.
A Relativity Media release. Running time: 106 minutes. Fantasy action and mild rude humor. Playing at: area theaters.