Armie Hammer and Lily Collins in a scene from "Mirror Mirror." / Jan Thijs/Relativity Media
Two and a half stars (out of four)
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Two and a half stars (out of four)
Once upon a time there was a story so compelling that the people who do such things, over time, felt the need to make at least 20 movie versions of it.
The story is so intriguing, in fact, that two movies based on it will come out this year.
"Mirror Mirror," directed by Tarsem Singh, is the first of those. And while it is not the terrible misfire that it might have been — a game-winning cast sees to that — it does nothing to prevent you from looking forward to "Snow White and the Huntsman," due in June.
The story in question concerns a young woman named Snow White — perhaps you have heard of her? As you probably know, she suffers under the stewardship of a vain, jealous stepmother, usually a queen, whose personality is often summed up with the one-word description "wicked." So wicked, in fact, that she not only wishes Snow White dead once the girl becomes the fairest of them all, outpacing said evil stepmother, but actually acts on her wish, ordering an underling to carry out the deed.
It doesn't happen, and Snow White seeks refuge with seven dwarfs in the forest. Versions differ, but in most the happily-ever-after ending is assured. And usually we get all the great fairy-tale standbys — a poisoned apple, a talking mirror and, most importantly, true love's kiss. "Mirror Mirror" has all that stuff, only in different contexts. And it has Lily Collins and Armie Hammer, as well, to say nothing of Julia Roberts, chewing scenery as if she hadn't been fed in months. Good thing, because as reinventions of fairy tales go, this one has some pretty big holes. Not all of the twists on the story work, but for the most part it's well-meaning, goofy good fun.
Snow (Collins) — yes, that's what she's called, and it sounds as awkward as it does when you read it — still mourns the death of her father, the king (Sean Bean), long disappeared. As well she might — her stepmother, the queen (Roberts) keeps her cooped up in the castle all the time, telling her what a loser she is. The queen, meanwhile, busies herself with spending all of the kingdom's money, sending all its people into poverty, to pay for her lavish parties.
But as Snow grows older, she grows restless, and the queen grows jealous. Things come to a head between them when a rather dopey fellow, Prince Alcott (Hammer), stumbles into the kingdom. He's hapless but rich — and he and Snow are attracted to each other. This is too much for the queen, who orders her chief stooge Brighton (Nathan Lane) to kill Snow. He can't, and he lets Snow go, bringing back animal entrails as proof to fool the queen. Snow, meanwhile, comes across the home in the forest of seven small men.
They don't have the Disney names — no Grumpy, no Sneezy, no Dopey — and they are, in fact, rebels, mercenaries, which is how Prince Alcott meets them: when they attack him. And that's not the only twist. In this telling of the story, Snow becomes a sort of feminist warrior, despite, as Prince Alcott notes, how well the charming-prince-saves-the-day plot line tests with audiences. That's just one of many self-referential winks and nods, some of which are funny, some of which are just kind of silly.
The whole film is hit-and-miss like that. For every funny gag, there is Roberts moaning into an alternate, mirror-housed version of herself. But Hammer has fun as Prince Alcott, especially when he thinks he's a dog (don't ask), and Collins makes Snow spunky, worth rooting for.
Will audiences leave happily ever after? Well, not unhappily, exactly. But if this were the only telling of the Snow White story, the tale would have been forgotten long ago. So on to the next one.