Based on Daniel Handler's first three Lemony Snicket novels, this stylized gothic fairy tale unfolds in a Dickensian once-upon-a-time world, a Victorian England of the mind retrofitted with gee-whiz modern conveniences flawlessly realized by production designer Rick Heinrichs. The astringent Snicket, an investigator chronicling the misfortunes that befell three blameless orphans, narrates in the voice of Jude Law, but is seen only as a silhouette surrounded by whirring, oversize clockwork gears. There was once a most fortunate group of children named Baudelaire. Brilliant Violet (Emily Browning), 14, possessed a prodigious capacity for inventing useful things from everyday objects. Her younger brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), read voraciously and retained every word like a computing machine. Their baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) was possessed of a fine set of new teeth and used them to bite things with vigor and tenacity uncommon in one of such tender years. The wealthy, loving Baudelaire parents encouraged their children's aptitudes, applauded their accomplishments and nurtured in them a deep and abiding filial devotion. But their charmed existence turned to smoke and ashes in a fire of highly suspicious origins, which killed their parents, destroyed their home and left them adrift in a sea of heartlessness with only an unusually well-intentioned, if still useless, lawyer, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), for protection. Poe places the children with a distant relative, master thespian Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who intends to kill them for their inheritance and, in the meantime, treats them as unpaid servants. The resourceful orphans stymie his every cunning homicidal effort, but even after they're placed with new guardians, Olaf pursues them, hiding his wicked intentions behind ingenious disguises. First Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a connoisseur of rare and exotic reptiles, and then Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a once-bold adventuress reduced to quivering in her seaside home for fear of uncommon household accidents, falls prey to his monomaniacal greed. So much of the movie is pitch-perfect, from the opening pastiche of every saccharine animated film about happy elves and trilling forest creatures to the closing credits — a piquantly eerie animated mini-movie — that it's a sorrowful responsibility to report that Carrey's relentless showboating is almost its undoing. A skilled and versatile mimic of enviable physical grace and flexibility, Carrey cannot — or more likely will not — resist the temptation to overdo, and his star wattage is such that no one is empowered to take him aside and insist that even when playing an evil hambone, less is truly more.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: PG
- Review: Based on Daniel Handler's first three Lemony Snicket novels, this stylized gothic fairy tale unfolds in a Dickensian once-upon-a-time world, a Victorian England of the mind retrofitted with gee-whiz modern conveniences flawlessly realized by production des… (more)