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Mirror Mirror

Eye candy without the filling: 'Mirror Mirror' has gorgeous scenes and action, but it tails off in pointless story and dialogue

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 30, 2012
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Only in the fairyland known as Hollywood is age the greatest curse of all, and only in Hollywood would a 44-year-old woman be considered old. In “Mirror Mirror,’’ an overstuffed, undercooked omelet of a “Snow White’’ revamp, a curiously taut Julia Roberts frets about her nonexistent wrinkles as the evil Queen, cracking wise and trying to make the best of the situation. This is what a youth-obsessed pop culture does when its beauties are no longer young - puts them out on the raft of evil mothers and conniving harpies. Next stop, “Driving Miss Daisy.’’

A more ambitious movie might have done something with the conundrum. “Mirror Mirror’’ is just a limp, jokey family film that wants to have its fairy tale magic and its hip irony, too. Like “The Princess Bride,’’ except not. Because the director is the India-born Tarsem (“The Cell,’’ “The Fall’’), the movie’s landscapes and costumes are opulent and outrageous - pure eye candy unbounded by taste. For all his visual creativity, though, the director has never been able to master simple matters like pacing, tone, and coherent storytelling, and “Mirror Mirror’’ mostly careens about like an unfocused school play.

Best thing here? A charmingly demure Lily Collins as Snow White, balancing the script’s demands that she wield a dagger and turn fight-scene somersaults with a princess-like grace. Late in the film, she’s lit, posed, and coiffed like the young Audrey Hepburn and it’s a compliment to say that the viewer doesn’t immediately recoil from the comparison. (Thankfully, the actress doesn’t look like her father, rocker Phil Collins. Yet.)

Armie Hammer - the Winklevi in “The Social Network’’ - is game, too, for the role of upstanding Prince Alcott of Valencia, repeatedly losing his shirt and acting like a slobbery puppy (because of a magic spell), among other humiliations. And the seven dwarves could have been worse. Roughneck bandits whose hearts melt when Snow comes to stay, they’ve been genially updated into types who might as well have names like Greedy, Silly, Horny, Macho, and Metrosexual.

But if this isn’t the single most irritating performance of Roberts’s career, I’d be hard-pressed to name what is. Her sensibility is too flip, too modern, to play in fairy-tale terms, and she doesn’t have the chops for larger-than-life villainy. Think of Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil in “101 Dalmatians’’ - now there was an actress able to find the juice in being bad. Roberts just fires off snide little sarcasms in an accent that comes and goes and shrieks about fitting into her corset. Does the star even know how insulting this role is?

Nathan Lane has been cast as Brighton, the Queen’s craven courtier, and when a spell temporarily turns him into a cockroach, you want to scuttle out of the movie with him. Little kids will enjoy “Mirror Mirror’’ because it’s bright and there are enough easy laughs, and even their parents will admit the dwarves on accordion stilts are something they haven’t seen before (if not the ball gown Snow White has apparently borrowed from Bjork or the magic attack-marionettes the director has lifted from Tim Burton).

Borrowed or not, though, little of the novelty sticks. (No, not even the Bollywood dance finale.) The film’s comic rhythms are slack, the dialogue is graceless; quite simply, the magic’s not there. “Mirror Mirror’’ is just another Redbox timewaster to tide us over until the next “improved’’ fairy tale comes along.

That would be “Snow White and the Huntsman,’’ starring Kristen Stewart, in June. Things have never looked so Grimm.

Ty Burr can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

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Directed by: Tarsem

Written by: Melissa Mallack

and Jason Keller

Starring: Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 106 minutes

Rated: PG (fantasy action, mild rude humor, dwarf abuse)

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