Film Reviews: Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Lemony Snicketís A Series of Unfortunate Events
Starring Jim Carrey, Emily Browning, and Liam Aiken. Directed by Brad Silberling. Written by Robert Gordon, based on Lemony Snicketís books. Rated PG.
When Sunny Gets Blue

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a mediocre movie that needs more Lemony.


Perhaps the greatest thing about Lemony Snicketís A Series of Unfortunate Events books is the authorís voice, which is wholly unlike any other in contemporary childrenís literature. He takes the tone of a refined, slightly disreputable adult with a macabre sense of humor and a knowledge of cool, exotic stuff like the recipe for puttanesca sauce. His urbanity and aestheticism cushion the blows when he imparts some of lifeís harsher lessons and gives his young readers a foretaste of the wonders and terrors of adulthood.

That voice is exactly whatís missing from the movie, a development thatís as sad as one of Lemony Snicketís books. (Actually, Jude Law supplies voiceover narration as Lemony Snicket. He has the right polish but doesnít convey the proper amount of impending doom.) The film recounts the miserable misadventures of the Baudelaire siblings. We first see 14-year-old Violet (Olivia Browning), 11-year-old Klaus (Liam Aiken), and 1-year-old Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) as theyíre being informed of their parentsí deaths in a fire. As if that terrible loss isnít enough, theyíre then sent to live with their nearest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a murderous master of disguise and ham actor who wants to get his hands on the enormous inheritance being held in trust for the children. The kid actors give dry, understated performances while the grown-up ones (including Meryl Streep as a deeply paranoid guardian for the Baudelaires) overemote wildly. This isnít a bad idea, but Carrey has never been able to create genuine menace, and the other actors are wasted, especially the fine bunch playing the members of Count Olafís theater troupe (Jennifer Coolidge, Luis GuzmŠn, Jane Adams, Craig Ferguson).

Screenwriter Robert Gordon (Galaxy Quest, but then again, Men in Black II) takes a wisecracking approach to the material that jars with the authorís black humor. Based on the first three books in the series, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window, the movie feels rushed at 104 minutes. Had it gone to two hours or even longer, the film might have found more time for those delightful Lemony Snicket asides, when the author explains in his inimitably funny way the finer points of the legal system or why chilled cucumber soup is great on a hot day but bad on a cold day. Instead, the movie zips through major plot points and minor characters, and those little touches are jettisoned, a word which here means ďhastily tossed overboard so the filmmakers can get to the end of the story more quickly.Ē

Thatís too bad, because director Brad Silberling does quite a few things right. He executes a superb fake-out at the filmís beginning, with an animated sequence that misleads us into thinking that weíve walked into a different movie altogether. The look will be familiar if youíve seen anything by Tim Burton (cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki, production designer Rick Heinrichs, art director John Dexter, and costume designers Colleen Atwood and Donna OíNeal have all worked on Burton films), but itís still the right one for the material. Considered on its own terms, Lemony Snicketís A Series of Unfortunate Events isnít bad stuff. It just doesnít live up to the guy whose name is in the title.

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