Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Hot Tub Time Machine a comedy about four friends transported to 1986 by a malfunctioning jacuzzi is funnier than a film built around such a patently dubious premise has any right to be. It’s so funny in fact that it could rightly be called — and I promise never to make this analogy again — the Hangover of home-appliance time-travel comedies.
A title like Hot Tub Time Machine creates certain expectations and so its story spares little time getting us to the eponymous plot device laying down the barest of setups before its four protagonists are jettisoned back in time: Lou (Rob Corddry) is a caustic drunk who must feign suicide to get friends to return his calls; Nick (Craig Robinson) is hopelessly whipped by his domineering wife; Adam (John Cusack) is a type-A insurance salesman reeling from a nasty breakup; his acerbic nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) lives in the basement his every waking moment devoted to his Second Life virtual world. And he’s arguably the coolest member of the group.
The quartet of schlubs sets out for a bromantic ski vacation but no sooner have they unpacked their bags then a bizarre accident involving a grimy hot tub an illegal Russian energy drink and an ill-tempered squirrel sends them hurtling back to 1986 where they awake bewildered and hungover in the middle of the momentous Spring Break weekend that childhood friends Lou Nick and Adam spent together while in high school. It’s a comedic Twilight Zone scenario fraught with all sorts of scary space-time continuum ramifications not the least of which threatens the very existence of young Jacob who had yet to be born in 1986 and whose mother (Collette Wolfe) he awkwardly discovers was a raging slut back in the day.
The greatest hazard with such a storyline is the temptation to overdose on cheap ‘80s jokes (everyone has big hair!) or time-travel ironies (Michael Jackson was still black!) and while Hot Tub Time Machine indulges in both (how could it not?) director Steve Pink (Accepted) looks mainly to his talented leads to carry the bulk of the film’s comedic weight. It’s a smart bet. Duke and Corddry are the cast's clear standouts but Robinson is close behind and even Cusack nearly matches the number of laugh-out-loud lines he delivered in 2012.
Hot Tub Time Machine’s hilariously warped journey through time is not without its bumps in the road. The holes in its plot extend beyond the excusable logical lapses bred by time travel and its complexities and the film’s handful of gross-out moments feel forced and unnecessary (save for one uproarious bit involving Corddry’s mouth Robinson’s penis and Karate Kid badboy Billy Zabka). A superfluous romantic subplot between Cusack’s character and a quirky music journalist (Lizzy Caplan) seems little more than a transparent ploy to add a quadrant to the film’s demographic reach — or perhaps to give more “weight” to its star actor’s role. But with a comedy like this it’s always best to travel light.