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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Families may find 'Lemony Snicket' not so sweet

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service


Two-and-a-Half Stars (Fair-to-Good) A quirky, dark fantasy, based on a popular series of books, about three orphans on the run from a greedy relative. Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep co-star for director Brad Silberling. Paramount, 107 minutes.

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" stars Jim Carrey in a film for families who recognize that many children eagerly embrace the dark, spooky, nasty side of fantasy.

If your ideas of wholesome entertainment include the books of Roald Dahl and the films of Tim Burton, "Lemony Snicket" is up your eerie alleyway. And, besides, the "unfortunate events" aren't all that dark, spooky or nasty. Sometimes, they're even a little funny.

The film marks the first adaptation of stories from the popular books by "Lemony Snicket" (aka Daniel Handler). They're apparently second only to the Harry Potter books among young readers.

The protagonists are three orphaned Baudelaire children — the clever Violet (Emily Browning), the resourceful Klaus (Liam Aiken) and the little baby, Sunny, whose claim to fame is an ability to bite anything and everything. (The baby, played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman, steals all her scenes, thanks to her amazing teeth.) The kids outrun and outwit a succession of evil or deranged or misguided relatives who line up to "help them" after their parents are killed in a tragic fire.

Some are well intentioned, but at least one is pure evil. The despicable fellow is Count Olaf (Carrey), a hammy actor and greedy man who wants custody of the kids just so he can dispose of them and grab their inheritance.

With his hooked nose, pointed chin and Dickensian attire, Carrey is nearly unrecognizable until he begins to speak and move — and then it's obvious we're watching Hollywood's most flamboyant and highly physical actor. With his body assuming all sorts of nearly impossible postures and his limbs all akimbo, Carrey grabs hold of his scenes with unrestrained vigor. It's an in-your-face performance filmgoers will either love or hate. Sure he's way over the top, but then, Olaf is supposed to be a bad actor. Perhaps it's justified.

On the run from Olaf, the children are briefly aided by Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), but he barely lasts long enough to make an impression. The sweet but unstable Aunt Josephine is far more memorable, perhaps because she's played delightfully by Meryl Streep.

Josephine is a super-neurotic woman who keeps herself cooped up in a house that hangs perilously over a seaside cliff. (You just know that house is going to end up in the drink.)

Under Brad Silberling's direction, "Lemony Snicket" is sometimes too clever and quirky for its own good. The film also stars Jude Law, who narrates. Catherine O'Hara, Cedric the Entertainer, Jennifer Coolidge and Luis Guzman also make appearances.

Still, the kids are plucky and fun and the dark, fantasy production values come fresh from a Burton movie or a "Addams Family" film or Edward Gorey cartoon.

Rated PG, with moments of mild fright.