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Mirror Mirror reflects poorly

*1/2

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MIRROR MIRROR

*1/2

DIRECTED BY Tarsem Singh Dhandwar

STARS Julia Roberts, Lily Collins

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 suddenly finds 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.

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