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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

The rules are set. The game is on.

Directed by:

Brad Silberling

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 98 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: PG

Country: United States

There tend to be two types of people in this world: those who don’t like Jim Carrey, and Jim Carrey. Sure, the guy’s proven himself to be a good, solid actor in films like The Truman Show, ‘Man on the Moon’, and the slightly-disappointing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but there’s just something about the rubber-faced screen-hugging he adopts in practically every other flick he’s appeared in that makes the man an instant turn-off.

The wonderfully-titled ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ has achieved something, then, that up until now I’d never thought possible. It takes Carrey’s irksome in-your-face shtick and, instead of having him clog up every single scene, it uses him with a modicum of restraint. You see, this isn’t Carrey’s film – it’s a film where the three little blighters trying to escape his evil clutches are the stars of the show, and our Jim becomes all the more palatable for it. For that reason alone, I’m tempted to put this one down right now as an out-and-out triumph.

Adapted from the first three books of the thirteen-strong ‘Lemony Snicket’ series (the reclusive author’s real name is Daniel Handler), the film wastes no time in bumping off the parents of sibling triumvirate Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny (played by twin babies Kara and Shelby Hoffman). The young ‘uns are initially placed in the care of the creepy Count Olaf (Carrey), a tall, spindly, castle-dwelling baddie who fancies himself as an up-and-coming actor (bear that part in mind for later in the film). Olaf vows to “care for these orphans as if they were actually wanted” but, when it becomes obvious that he’s Hell-bent on killing them to get his mitts on their inheritance money, the authorities end up taking them to stay with a string of weird and wonderful rellies (including a snake-obsessed Billy Connolly and phobia-driven Meryl Streep).

One of the film’s main strengths is that, despite being aimed largely at kiddy-winks, it doesn’t talk down to its audience. It makes a self-conscious point of shunning the cutesy and the fluffy (prompting an unexpected, but definitely funny, opening sequence), and parents taking in its wondrously dark, gothic sets may well find themselves feeling like they’re watching the Tim Burton film Tim Burton never made. But there’s nothing in here you could possibly deem unsuitable for the youngsters – this is, without a shadow of a doubt, a family film. And, what’s more, it’s one of the better family films of 2004.

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It's Got: A cast so teeming with modern-day Hollywood talent that the likes of Jennifer Coolidge, Luis Guzman, Catherine O’Hara, Cedric the Entertainer and even Dustin Hoffman are barely more than extras.

It Needs: To have made Baby Sunny’s lines funnier. Having her pre-speech grunts translated as subtitles on the bottom of the screen is a nice idea, but I couldn’t help but feel that the so-so jokes used turned it into a bit of a missed opportunity.

Alternatives:

Holes, Spirited Away, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Summary

You’ll find nothing unfortunate about going to see this dark, fun, horror-for-kiddies.

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