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With: Jim Carrey, Lude Law, Liam Aiken, Emily Browning,
Written by: Robert Gordon, based on books by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Directed by: Brad Silberling
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language
Running Time: 110
Date: 12/16/2004

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Biting Humor

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

From the start Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) wrotehis hugely successful children's stories A Series of Unfortunate Eventsalmost as a dare. He brazenly scribbled as if he did not care one whit ifanyone ever read them. They did not pander to children, and in fact took themin as secret accomplices, congratulating and rewarding them for reading booksthey were not supposed to.

On the other hand, the new movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events desperately cares what its audience thinks. More than anything it wants the audience to love its poor unfortunate lead characters, the Beaudelaire orphans: the inventor Violet (Emily Browning), the reader Klaus (Liam Aiken) and their baby sister, biter Sunny (played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman).

In its bid for unconditional love, the film softens Handler's work and adds in silly screenplay elements that string together plots from the first three books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window), repeating themes and soothing the stories' natural darkness.

Jim Carrey plays the ever-present villain, Count Olaf, who dons various disguises to get his hands on the Beaudelaire fortune. Carrey overplays his hand by a good, long stretch and provides the movie with yet another cheap escape from true darkness. Instead of casting a really sinister villain (Gary Oldman?), it resorts to low comedy.

Most of the blame lies with director Brad Silberling, the wrong choice for this or any other movie. Besides a great deal of television, his credits include the soulless Casper and the gutless Wings of Desire remake City of Angels.

Even so, the movie has its high points. The young actors succeed with their lovely underplayed performances. (Their reaction to Carrey's mugging is shocked silence.) And the beautiful set design would not look out of place in a Charles Addams cartoon. Additionally, the closing credits boast a gorgeous piece of two-dimensional shadow-play animation that's worth the price of admission all by itself.

Otherwise, we have Jude Law providing the voice of the mysterious Snicket, Timothy Spall as the banker in charge of placing the orphans, Billy Connolly as Uncle Monty of the pythons and Meryl Streep having a ball hamming it up as Aunt Josephine. Catherine O'Hara, Cedric the Entertainer, Jane Adams, Jennifer Coolidge and Luis Guzman also star. Robert Gordon (Addicted to Love, Galaxy Quest) provided the screenplay.

Kids may get a kick out of a single viewing, but adults should instead track down a screening of Handler's other new movie, the clever and vicious black comedy Rick.

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