Lemony Snicket's A Series
of Unfortunate Events

          Turning a beloved set of children's books into a feature film is
  fraught with perils. Be too faithful to the original source material and
  many will complain (see, the first two Harry Potter films). Take too many
  liberties, and, well, an equal number will cast aspersions. Put simply,
  it's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.

          In adapting the first three books in
, screenwriter Robert Gordon and director
  Brad Silberling have managed to strike as close to a perfect balance
  might be expected. Greatly aided by a design team that included
  production designer Rick Heinrichs, costumer Colleen Atwood and
  cinematographer Emmanuel Luzbecki, the filmmakers have fashioned a
  wonderfully realized oddball universe, not quite contemporary, not quite
  Victorian, in which both children and adults can revel.

          The sharply snarky Snicket books center on the adventures of the
  three Baudelaire children, inventive Violet (Emily Browning), erudite Klaus
  (Liam Aiken) and toddler Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), who likes
  to bite things. At the start of book one and the film, the children
  have been orphaned recently, their parents killed in a fire which also
  destroyed the family homestead. The family retainer, Mr. Poe (Timothy
  Spall) is charged with finding refuge for the trio and he takes them to
  their nearest relative, a distant cousin, the actor manqué Count Olaf
  (Jim Carrey).

          Count Olaf has no real desire to harbor the children; he's only
  interested in getting his hands on their immense fortune. As such,
  he demands the Baudelaires do "whatever pops into my head" with
  chores ranging from cleaning his vermin-infested kitchen to whipping
  up a roast beef dinner with no notice. All the while, he cooks up
  elaborate schemes to off the kids. When one attempt goes awry,
  the Baudelaires are moved to the care of Monty Montgomery (Billy
  Connolly), a herpetologist who offers wise counsel and a pleasant
  home. Of course, such happiness is only short-lived and before long,
  the Baudelaires are off to stay with yet another guardian, the
  overprotective widowed Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). More
  adventures ensue and the children use their ingenuity to foil a
  dastardly plot by Count Olaf, with matters ending on an upbeat note,
  but leaving the door open for sequels.

          Gordon has done what he can to maintain the tone of the
  books, including employing a framing device of Lemony Snicket
  (Jude Law) narrating the story. Law's plummy voice provides the
  right note of sarcasm and bemusement and sets the tenor for
  the film. Browning and Aiken deliver terrific performances and,
  quite importantly, are believable as siblings. The supporting cast,
  though, has little to do. When gifted comic actors like Cedric the
  Entertainer, Craig Ferguson, Jane Adams and, especially,
  Catherine O'Hara are relegated to virtual walk-ons, there's
  something amiss. Connolly injects much needed warmth into the
  film, while Streep displays her comedic impulses but seems to be
  slumming. Perhaps the most controversial casting is that of
  Jim Carrey. On paper, Carrey seemed to be an ideal choice for the
  comic villain Count Olaf, and there are sparks of genius in his work.
  But, as with Jerry Lewis or Robin Williams, a little of Carrey can
  go a long way. Instead of being truly frightening, in the manner of
  Margaret Hamilton's Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West
THE WIZARD OF OZ, the actor relies too readily on shtick and
  the wacky persona he cultivated in his years on
In Living Color and
  in films like
  real menace is missing from Count Olaf, which makes the children's
  plight somehow less immediate.

          Still, the movie does provide a mix of laughs and thrills, if no
  real amount of danger. Undoubtedly, the film will divide audiences,
  but it still provides enjoyable entertainment for families, which is
  no mean feat.

Rating:                B
                          MPAA Rating:     PG for thematic elements, scary situations
                                                       and brief language
                          Running time:    108  mins.

                 Viewed at the Directors' Guild of America Screeening Room
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.