The magic mirror, the poisoned apple, the Seven Dwarfs, the evil queen, the handsome prince, and the fair maiden called Snow White all make appearances in Mirror Mirror. But with director Tarsem Singh at the helm, the enchanted qualities of the Snow White saga are muffled by the weight of visual peacockery. The director of Immortals and The Cell never met a lily he didn’t want to gild and then photograph through a kaleidoscope. And his curiously unemotional, obsessive attention to the superficial look of things, combined with a screenplay by Marc Klein and Jason Keller (from a story idea by Melissa Wallack) that layers a jokey post-modern sensibility over an old Grimm fairy tale, makes for a dull and unbewitching movie.
Julia Roberts enjoys herself immensely as Snow’s evil stepmother the Queen. And well she might: The character is a psychological classic, a woman vain about her beauty, depressed about aging, and jealous of the young women who will inevitably unthrone her as Fairest of Them All. Playing step-mama with a wink (the heartless bee-yotch also spends money like a sultan while her subjects suffer in poverty), Roberts gets to act out the meanest, pettiest, and most amusingly wicked of urges, laying on the cartoon cruelty. Confidently still one of the Fairest of Them All among her own generation, the movie star has fun with the cute contradiction of a pretty woman playing an ugly competitor.
Anyway, the Queen might just as well save some of her dragon breath: As played by Lily Collins (The Blind Side) with an assist from her screen-hogging, disorienting dark eyebrows, our Snow is a rather bland girl with none of her stepmom’s charismatic personality. In a nod to Tangled and the present-day preference for young heroines who know martial arts, archery, or other forms of kicking ass, Snow is, as they say, an agent in her own self-empowerment. (At least I think they say that, in some women’s magazine or other.) The young woman takes lessons in swashbuckling from her friends the Seven Dwarfs, and proves to be such a deft hand with a sword that the Handsome Prince — played with true easy charm by The Social Network’s Armie Hammer — almost doesn’t know what to make of her.
The Seven Dwarfs? They’re jokey and squabbly and physically rambunctious — all those things that come with being a) an all-male comic-relief element and b) dwarf actors in a comedy. The guys spend their days as woodland bandits. And when they fight, they look awfully cool when they suddenly become tall, lifted up by their stilt-like giant accordion pantaloons.
Oh, those pantaloons! Mirror Mirror is a film that’s all picture and no propulsion, each scene static in a basic set-decoration color scheme of teabag and banana. But those pantaloons — and every other costume in the movie — are marvels of artistry by the late, great multimedia artist Eiko Ishioka. Sprung from Eiko’s unique imagination, every garment is an art installation, every hat a fantastical sculpture. And that’s just for daily wear. When the Queen plays a chess-like diversion with living pieces moving across a game board floor and, especially, when the Queen throws a fancy ball, the designer dresses the players in creations that display more vitality, standing still, than the whole movie does, joylessly pushing towards its Happily Ever After finish. C+