Somewhere near the end of this highly anticipated children’s adventure movie there’s a cameo by Dustin Hoffman. He just blurs on, says a couple of indistinct phrases and is not seen again. The pointlessness of his appearance is indicative of what’s wrong with this film, a series of disconnected and poorly motivated events which no amount of star power – Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall – can give shape to. There’s even narration courtesy of Jude Law, though it could be Father Christmas for all the difference it makes. The plot follows three young orphans, bookish Klaus, resourceful Emily and gurgling infant Sunny, as they are farmed out to a series of dotty relatives, pursued all the way by the despicably evil Count Olaf (Jim Carrey doing his Ace Ventura thing), who’s interested only in their fortune. Unusually for a children’s film, the young actors are actually rather engaging, they’re good performers who do their best to be believable, normal Edwardian kids. Production design is impressive too – as if Tim Burton at his most feverishly gothic had ram-raided an Arthur Ransome library – and the famous names all work hard at performances that are deliberately grotesque and in any other film would be enjoyable. What’s missing is any dramatic thread, leading to the growing dread that any minute another new relative will arrive and the film will go on for ever. This is the first three Snicket books telescoped into one film. Ten more to go. Unfortunately.
© Steve Morrissey 2004