Mark Reviews Movies

LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brad Silberling

Cast: Jim Carrey, Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, Meryl Streep, Kara Hoffman, Shelby Hoffman, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Cedric the Entertainer, Catherine O'Hara, Jude Law

MPAA Rating:  (for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 10/17/04


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Review by Mark Dujsik

I have a confession to make, and you must promise not to think any less of me. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the escapades of the Bauderlaire siblings as chronicled by one Lemony Snicket. The eleven volumes that have so far been published are quickly digestible, insanely readable, and utterly fun. As the three children use their exceptional resourcefulness, intelligence, and biting skills to escape the clutches of their evil former guardian, they encounter a load of adventures and a bunch of clueless adults, all told with a wicked sense of humor and some clever interaction from its third-person omnipresent narrator. Yes, the Series of Unfortunate Events books are one of those children's book series that can be enjoyed by a good selection of people for different reasons. Now the first three books (A Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window) are thrown into a pot and mixed together to bring us Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which maintains the fiendish humor and the oblivious adults. The movie also manages to evoke the down-to-earth surrealism of the story's world, but it ultimately suffers too much at the hands of a bungled misinterpretation of its central villain.

The Bauderlaire children consist of Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman). Violet is the eldest and a master inventor who puts her hair up when her brain is working. Klaus is an avid reader who ingests information and is able to regurgitate it at a moment's notice. Sunny is the baby, and she likes to bite things. One day, a mysterious fire destroys their home and leaves the children orphaned and in the hands of their banker Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), who will take them to guardian after guardian in the progression of their adventures. First on the list is their nearest relative, their fourth cousin three-times removed or their third cousin four-times removed, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Olaf is an egocentric actor who gives the Baudelaires lists of chores to be completed before he returns home with his acting troupe. As it turns out, Olaf's plans are, not surprisingly, not at all in the children's best interests, and he's looking to kill them to obtain their newly inherited fortune.

All of the siblings' misfortunes are related to us by the mysterious Snicket (Jude Law), who reports his findings while typing within a giant clock. Snicket is the pseudonym for Daniel Handler, whose tone is transferred effectively to the screen by screenwriter Robert Gordon. The major point of the movie keeps with the books in unveiling a fact every child knows: adults are clueless. The infuriating density of the adults shows itself in the obvious ways, as no one seems to understand that Olaf is a diabolical fiend. Mr. Poe is convinced that Olaf's worst crime as a guardian is letting Sunny at the wheel of his car, not leaving the car on train tracks for the children to be crushed in the first place. Their next guardian Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) recognizes Olaf's ruse in pretending to be a reptile expert, but he's under the impression that the disguise is part of a plan to take away his Incredibly Deadly Viper. Then there's Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), who finds danger in the most everyday objects around her but seems to have no problem with the fact her house is perilously hanging over a cliff.

Keeping in tune with the menacing milieu, the movie features ominous production values. Rick Heinrichs' production design and Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography create a sense of continual foreboding, and director Brad Silberling realizes that the children's time for grief is constantly interrupted by everything else with which they have to keep up. The child actors maintain a melancholy gloom throughout, and the brief supporting roles by Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep hit the right notes of amusing eccentricity to counter the kids' misery. The problem—and it's one that essentially spoils the movie—lies in Jim Carrey's performance as Olaf. Carrey goes for a comedic spin to the role in scene after scene of the rogue acting goofy. While Olaf is an arrogant showoff in some respects, what Carrey is sorely lacking—and what the character above all needs—is a sense of malice. When his plans go awry, his reaction is bewilderment, and in instigating his evil deeds, we wonder how such an aloof man could even imagine pulling such things off. Without it, the Baudelaires' peril is significantly slighted; the main threat to their safety and the entire cause of the hardships they face is more buffoon than villain.

The result is like an arrangement of Charles Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" (you know, the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" theme) with a lone kazoo player among the orchestra. The material already has its own sense of whimsy, and the kazoo simply forces a kind of affected whimsy that isn't there to begin with. The shame of it all is that Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is an otherwise fine adaptation, heightened by visual prowess. For the further trials of the Baudelaires, which will undoubtedly appear in film form, someone either needs to focus Carrey less on his shtick and more on the character or recast.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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