Tuesday, September 1, 2015

'Mirror Mirror' puts the fun back in the fairy tale

About the movie
Mirror Mirror
SciFi, Fantasy
MPAA rating:
for some fantasy action and mild rude humor
Running time:
Release date:
Jordan Prentice; Julia Roberts; Bean Reigns; Danny Woodburn; Lily Collins; Sebastian Saraceno; Martin Klebba; Nathan Lane; Armie Hammer; Ronald Lee Clark
Directed by:
Tarsem Singh

The grown-upcast of the amusing kiddie comedy "Mirror Mirror" wins this year's Good Sport award.

Starting with Julia Roberts, who, at the advanced age of 44, is cast in the "Snow White" riff as a wicked "old" woman. Roberts plays (for laughs) a usurping queen who envies the youth and beauty of her stepdaughter Snow White (Lily Collins), whom the Queen treats as badly as her staff (Nathan Lane), and her impoverished, overtaxed kingdom.

Also up for a good time at his own expense is Armie Hammer (recently nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for "J. Edgar"). He played both of the Olympian Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network" and has become skilled at leveraging his perfect looks for laughs on screen. (Hammer also played the ideal man as the title character in a short-film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron.") Here, he's in his sweet spot as the proverbial Handsome Prince.

The prince is also wealthy, and so is coveted by the lavish-spending Queen, who diverts his interest in Snow White by dosing him with a love potion - in "Mirror Mirror," it's a libation that induces puppy love, so on top of everything else, Hammer has to act like a dog.

Appropriate, in that the prince, as a character, has already been effectively neutered. In our era of socially re-engineered fairy tales, it wouldn't do for the prince to rescue Snow White, and in this story, he's incapable of rescuing even himself. A running joke as the Prince running afoul of the seven dwarves, reimagined here as highwaymen, who rob visiting swells like the prince, and who also provide shelter for Snow White when she flees the clutches of her evil-stepmother queen.

The dwarves are the movie's most successful revision. By expanding each of the dwarves as defined characters and turning them into action figures, "Mirror Mirror" de-mascots them, and gives some of the diminutive performers a chance to do some real comic acting, with effective results. The seven small gentlemen also give director Tarsem Singh one of his best visual ideas - as robbers, the dwarves wear stilts to make them more fearsome, yielding some visually arresting sequences that make clever use of stunts and costuming.

"Mirror Mirror" is generally in the post-"Shrek" school of irreverent update. It subtracts enchantment (and all of the darker, Grimm Brothers tone) and adds a lot of jokes, and there are enough of them here to make this cheerful matinee entertainment for children, with a few gags for mom and dad. (Hammer has a funny crack defending his traditional role as rescuer, arguing that it's been thoroughly "focus-grouped.")

And the cast is very game. Hammer and Roberts have the right attitude, and Collins makes a pretty Snow White. She has the natural sweetness of Amy Adams, and the eyebrows of Colin Farrell, although she's actually the daughter of Phil Collins. n

Produced by Bernie Goldmann, Ryan Kavanaugh, Brett Ratner, directed by Tarsem Singh, written by Melissa Wallack, Jason Keller, music by Alan Menken, distributed by Relativity Media.

Contact Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Keep it Reel" at www.philly.com/keepitreel.

Daily News Film Critic
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