“Mirror Mirror,” the first of two Snow White adaptations slated to hit theaters this year, is a sumptuous visual feast featuring all of the typical style of director Tarsem Singh, but little of the substance that made his previous films (“The Fall,” “The Cell”) tick. Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins star in this lackluster yet occasionally humorous retelling of the classic fairy tale.
After the mysterious disappearance of her father, Princess Snow White (Collins) is placed under the neglectful eye of her evil stepmother, the kingdom’s de facto queen (Roberts). While Snow dreams of a life beyond the confines of the castle walls, the Queen cares only about fueling her vain and lavish existence. Unfazed by her aide’s repeated protests that the once prosperous land has fallen into complete financial ruin, the Queen sets her sights on marrying the handsome Prince Alcott (Hammer), who hails from a neighboring kingdom.
When a chance encounter between Snow and the Prince sparks an undeniable mutual attraction, the Queen attempts to remove her romantic rival from the picture for good. And yet, Snow finds refuge with a band of renegade dwarves, who grudgingly take her in and train her to fight. Bereft of his true love, Alcott tries to stave off the Queen’s advances, which only drives her to use powerful dark magic that threatens to destroy all.
Although “Mirror Mirror” is in many ways an inventive take on the familiar story, the screenplay never manages to overcome its biggest shortcoming: the dialogue. Perhaps the writers would have had better luck simply going all-out for parody, rather than continually falling short of funny with lines that feel forced and, more often than not, awkward. The delivery is passable, at best, but given the lack of depth afforded by the script, it seems almost unfair to assess the actors’ performances.
Roberts is on point bringing out the gold-digging, conniving side of the queen like a tyrannical Marie Antoinette, but her evil sorceress alter-ago is far less compelling, and even confusing. Opposite her, Collins’ Snow is a drab, passive and weak heroine more akin to Bella of “Twilight” than Katniss of “The Hunger Games,” even after being trained by the dwarves. Hammer’s performance rides largely on his good looks and winning smile, instilling a sense of disappointment that the talented actor wasn’t given more material to work with beyond, well, being Prince Charming.
The classist undertones in the kingdom’s destitute society are relevant to today and yet vastly unexplored, much like the Queen’s mysterious magic powers. But if the film possesses any redeeming gimmicks, they come in the form of the stilt-walking, ass-kicking dwarves, who between the seven of them manage to accrue all the most memorable lines.
Overall, “Mirror Mirror” is disappointingly vapid, presenting a pretty picture devoid of the emotional substance that could have compensated for its other faults. Case in point: even a surprise celebrity cameo toward the end barely registers.
While some children’s movies can be enjoyed by the whole family, this is one that is far more likely to leave parents and chaperones twiddling their thumbs until the closing credits.