U.S. Release Date: December 17, 2004
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Brad Silberling
Writer: Robert Gordon, Daniel Handler
Producer: Scott Aversano, Scott Rudin (executive), Barry Sonnenfeld (executive producer), Jim Van Wyck
Composer: Thomas Newman
Cast: Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Jude Law, Jamie Harris, Cedric the Entertainer
Running Time: 1 hour and 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (thematic elements, scary situations and brief language)

The Carrey Show
by C.A. Wolski

The adaptation of the first three of Lemony Snicket's books about unlucky orphans Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny (Kara and Selby Hoffman) Baudelaire, A Series of Unfortunate Events, is an empty, if stylish exercise.

After their parents are killed in a mysterious fire, the wealthy, though unfortunate, kids are sent to live with Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an actor of vague talent and even vaguer sanitary habits. Olaf is obsessed with the kids' wealth and hatches several schemes to get hold of it, including doing the tykes in. Foiled at each turn, the Baudelaires go to live with other relatives, including the chipper Montgomery Montgomery (Billy Connolly) and the risk-averse Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). Through it all, the kids never lose their pluck and, impressively, they use their noggins—not relying on luck—or the all-powerful hand of authority to wriggle their way out of Olaf's nefarious schemes. Among the tricks in his bag of nasty plots: trains, leeches, and snakes.

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a textbook example of style over substance. The movie—which is set in some sort of nameless parallel universe that could be Old or New England—looks fantastic. Production designer Rick Heinrichs has created an entire world that is richly imagined. For instance, each character's home—the Baudelaire's palatial mansion, Count Olaf's dingy hovel, Montgomery's reptile house, and Josephine's teetering overhanging abode—has a distinct, powerful personality and more depth than the script or the characters. Costume design by Colleen Atwood is equally good.

The same cannot be said for the script, written by Robert Gordon, or the performances. Carrey, in particular, is abysmal. During his first moments on screen it appears he is flashing fitfully back to one of his In Living Color characters. He chews the scenery so much that he forgets the function of Olaf as a menacing force in the children's lives, leading one to suspect that director Brad Silberling simply let the superstar run amok.

Streep is also bad. As Montgomery, Connolly is understated, playing the kindly uncle with an undercurrent of heroism. The best adult performance comes from Jude Law as the shadowy narrator Lemony Snicket. The rest of the adult cast play borderline idiots in a recurring theme that adults never listen to children (a slight deviation from the first novel).

The saving graces of this dismal movie are the children, who aren't coy but ingenious, smart, and fearless. During one perilous scene involving a train, the kids use their skills—Violet's ability to invent, Klaus' encyclopedic knowledge, and Sunny's proclivity to bite things—to work together and save themselves. But these moments are short-lived; every time Carrey shows up, the movie grinds to a halt as he regales us with his obnoxious look-at-me shtick.

The movie fails fundamentally because of its tone, never knowing if it wants to be a dark comedy or a satirical adventure akin to Voltaire's Candide. Because it is neither, it is simply a dark, brooding and cheerless bit of over-produced celluloid.

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