Director Tarsem Singh has a history of making visually stunning films with lifeless stories, stiff acting and terrible dialogue. Even if you weren’t drawn in by the rote serial-killer dynamics of The Cell, were annoyed by the meandering, incoherent plot of The Fall or found the bombastic action of Immortals overbearing, you could still have taken nearly any frame from one of those movies, blown it up and hung it on your wall. Singh is a master at marshaling lavish, ornate costume and set design, inventive camera angles and creative special effects, even if he seems incapable of telling an involving story or eliciting an engaging performance from an actor.
Singh’s latest film, the Snow White retelling Mirror Mirror, tones down his visual flair considerably, and as a result all it’s left with are the lame story and lackluster performances. There are still some striking images in the movie, most notably in the extravagant palace of the evil queen (Julia Roberts) who rules over the fairy-tale land with an iron fist. The queen and the members of her court are outrageously costumed in various creative ways throughout the film, but too much of the action takes place outside of the palace, in dull-looking forests and towns.
When that happens, we’re forced to pay attention to the bland love story between Snow White (Lily Collins), who’s been kept locked away by the queen, and handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), the potential savior of her kingdom. Screenwriters Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller follow the Snow White fairy tale very loosely, turning the seven dwarves into a band of thieves with edgy names like Wolf and Butcher, and making the prince into the one who falls under a spell and must be rescued by true love’s kiss.
But there’s no point of view or narrative purpose to the changes in the story, just a lot of feeble jokes and wan self-referential jabs. With its strained irreverence and fondness for meta-humor, Mirror Mirror is like a second-rate live-action Shrek, complete with an annoying and pointless dance number by the entire cast during the closing credits. The story has no tension, and Collins and Hammer barely register as livelier than the scenery. Roberts seems to relish playing a villain, but her inconsistent accent and smirking tone take away most of the character’s menace. Every once in a while, Singh produces one of his singular images, but they don’t have much power when surrounded by this silly, scattered story.