Sunday, May 13, 2012

REVIEW: Dark Shadows

Last week, I wrote that The Avengers was more than the sum of its parts. This week, I'm sorry to report that Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is less than the sum of its parts. Indeed, it's Burton's weakest film to date.

At first glance, Dark Shadows and Tim Burton seem tailor-made for each other. The trailer indicated a goofy/scary good time, not unlike Beetlejuice. The prologue is certainly ravishing, with sweeping imagery and oozing portent. When, as the trailers foretold, the story flashes forward to 1972, and the humor gets sillier, the movie somehow manages to hang together.

But then, slowly but surely, Dark Shadows begins to unravel. Plot threads and characters drop in and out with no rhyme or reason, except to set up redundant action scenes. It's as if Burton and his writer, Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) can't decide on a tone, or even whose story to tell. By the end of the movie, when we get the inevitable drop for a sequel, I could only roll my eyes and say, "Good luck with that."

I can't fault the cast. Depp has come under fair criticsm lately for flying on kind of a zany autopilot, which I thought he was doing in Burton's overrated Alice in Wonderland. This time, at least, he pours his heart into his performance, having fun with the dual nature of Barnabas Collins. Depp is one of the few actors who can say a line like, "It is with sincere regret that I must kill you all," and make it sound both intimidating and sad.

The other actors try their best, but are undone by sloppy, shallow writing. It's nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer reunited with her Batman Returns director, but she's given almost nothing to do. Eva Green sexes it up nicely as Collins' nemesis, in a role Pfeiffer might have once played, but her character is poorly defined almost from the start. Helena Bonham Barter has too little screen time as a duplicitous doctor, and the misuse of the talented Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, Hugo) via a dumb third act revelation, is unforgivable.

I wish that Burton would produce an original property rather than try to graft his sensibility on an existing property, which he has now done for four movies (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland and now Dark Shdows). At least with the upcoming Frankenweenie, he's adapting himself.

I have only a passing familiarity with the original Dark Shadows, but I can't imagine it would have developed its devoted following if it were as scattershot as Burton has made it. His trajectory of late is worrying. I thought Alice was a misfire, but that at least had great performances by Bonham Carter and Mia Wasikowska to keep it afloat. Despite Depp's best efforts, Dark Shadows sinks.



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