It's long been established that the emperor has no clothes, which explains why Tarsem Singh Dhandwar can usually be spotted sporting nothing but a strategically placed fig leaf.
Dhandwar, who in the past has billed himself as Tarsem Singh or, when he's apparently channeling Prince or Madonna, simply Tarsem, clearly has an eye for unusual visuals, as evidenced by his previous works The Cell, The Fall and Immortals. But even his ardent supporters won't be able to overlook the fact that Mirror Mirror finally, irrevocably reveals him as a practitioner of the all-style-no-substance brand of filmmaking. Working from a script by screen newbies Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller, Dhandwar tries to breathe new life into the classic Snow White fairy tale but instead strips it of all magic and menace.
With the addition of a fearsome dragon and the sight of Nathan Lane turning into a cockroach, this clearly isn't your ancestor's Snow White. This is evident from the start, as the wicked Queen (Julia Roberts) explains in a snappish voice how she married a benevolent king and, after he disappeared, took control of his kingdom as well as his young daughter Snow White (Lily Collins).
A cruel despot who has bankrupted the once-happy villagers, the Queen hopes to marry the wealthy -- and considerably younger -- Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). But he's smitten with Snow, who has suddenly found herself hiding from the Queen in the nearby woods. There, she meets seven dwarfs, but don't expect miners with names like Sleepy, Bashful and Grumpy; these seven are bandits by trade, answering to monikers like Butcher, Wolf and Grub.
Mirror Mirror follows the Shrek template of tweaking familiar children's chestnuts with contemporary cracks and characterizations, but while it's classier than that animated blockbuster (no potty humor here), it's also far more tepid, with precious few of the radical revisions displaying any real wit. The romance isn't any better: While Collins and Hammer look good together, they fail to strike any sparks, although many viewers will be thankful that cinematographer Brendan Galvin frequently captures Hammer in a shirtless state while others will appreciate Collins' porcelain beauty.
Roberts, meanwhile, is game but operating inside an undefined character. Is the Queen supposed to be a harmless nitwit? A frightening monarch? A caricature of regal insouciance? With Dhandwar and his writers providing no direction, Roberts is cast adrift, only finding any grounding in her amusing scenes opposite Lane as her mincing manservant.
As for the dwarfs, they prove to be an interesting lot, albeit not nearly as entertaining as their cartoon counterparts from Disney's 1938 classic. But it was probably best that they provided this septet with new names, considering that this dull trifle forced me to co-opt the names Sleepy and Grumpy for the duration of its running time.
TIM & ERIC'S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE
The funniest thing in Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie -- excuse me, the only funny thing in Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie -- is a sudden realization concerning Oscar nominee Robert Loggia (Jagged Edge), who appears in the film as a murderous studio head. When exactly did this respected character actor begin resembling Al Lewis during his stint as Grandpa on The Munsters?
Aside from this modest chuckle -- well, OK, there's also a Top Gun gag that might slightly raise the corners of the mouth, at least until it's eventually run into the ground -- Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is about as funny as discovering that you have cancer, AIDS and a brain tumor all on the same day. A joint writing-directing-starring effort for Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the duo of Adult Swim and YouTube infamy, this film is witless and puerile -- and so awful it makes me wonder if I'll be forced to be more charitable to the next Adam Sandler turkey that comes down the pike.
"But wait!" interjects the team's hardcore legion of fans. "Unlike Sandler, these guys are geniuses!" Look, let's not mince words here. Anyone who believes Heidecker and Wareheim to be comic gold will more than likely love this movie, and they should attend with my full blessing. Their popularity, particularly among young males, cannot be denied, and their efforts can be found being defended all over the Internet.
(Sample quotes: "Their humor is not funny because it's stupid, it's funny because they know it's stupid"; "So bad it's bad, in a funny way"; "If you get it you get it, it's not that complicated"; "I think the film being a travesty is the point.")
Yet for me personally, Tim and Eric are simply not funny. I daresay I could go down to the nearest Target and randomly drag two strangers out of the checkout line, and they would possess better comic chops than these guys.
Other comedians, past and present, have been successful because of their deft physicality (Charles Chaplin, Cary Grant), pitch-perfect delivery (Richard Pryor, Walter Matthau), humanist wit (Jack Lemmon, Woody Allen), even carefully orchestrated vaudeville schtick (W.C. Fields, Bob Hope). The mode in vogue these days is anti-humor, which posits that the joke is that there's no joke aside from the expectation of a joke.
Andy Kaufman was successful at this brand of comedy; Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (who, incidentally, both appear in this film) are hit-and-miss; Zach Galifianakis and Will Forte (also both here) are mostly miss-and-miss; and Eric and Tim are bottom-feeders.
The plot centers around the efforts of Tim and Eric to earn a billion dollars running a dilapidated mall (one sample store sells used toilet paper taken from Porta-Johns) in order to recoup the money they lost making a movie, but let's focus on a couple of specific scenes. In one, Tim visits a health guru (Ray Wise) who instructs him to sit in a bathtub surrounded by several young boys.
On cue, the lads crap incessantly into the tub until Tim finds himself drowning in diarrhea. Is it gross? Of course. Is it funny? Well, 8-year-olds find toilet humor intrinsically funny, but many folks above that age group need some sort of satiric spin. In Mel Brooks' High Anxiety, there's a gross scene where scores of birds fly above Mel's head, bombarding him with poop; it's a hilarious bit because it's a perfectly executed spoof of Hitchcock's The Birds.
What, exactly, is the bathtub scene in T&EBDM spoofing? Or is it merely supposed to be a shocking scene, made to make us feel uncomfortable (as the duo's supporters insist is part of their genius)?
Ever since Luis Bunuel showed that eyeball getting sliced open in 1929's Un Chien Andalou -- and through Divine eating actual dog doo in John Waters' 1972 Pink Flamingos -- moviegoers have been subjected to any number of shocking and uncomfortable scenes. The entirety of this new film is on the level of seeing a 5-year-old boy picking his nose -- unsightly, but hardly something to shake a person to their core.
Then there's the sequence in which Eric sports an unnatural attraction to a boy of about 10. Is the scene decidedly non-P.C.? Of course. Is it funny? No, but not because it's non-P.C.: Last year's A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas included a slow motion shot involving a young boy and a group of pedophilic priests, and that moment had me on the floor (hell, I'm still chuckling over it). Clearly, almost all taboos can be mined for buried humor, but based on this disaster, Tim & Eric apparently aren't the guys to do it.