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Little wonder in Alice, raunchy and romantic League

by Mark Burger

Director Tim Burton and leading man Johnny Depp have enjoyed considerable success with their previous collaborations: Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Sweeney Todd (2007) and the animated Corpse Bride (2005). But all good things must come to an end, and despite the record-breaking openingweekend box-office take, Alice in Wonderland is hardly their finest hour, either together or apart.

Much of the film is shouldered by Mia Waskikowska, quite agreeable in the title role. The 19-year-old Alice, fearful about settling into domesticity, is once again catapulted into Wonderland, where she embarks on what euphemistically be called “the adventure of a lifetime.”

It is there, of course, that she encounters such wacky characters as the Mad Hatter, played by a red-haired, gap-toothed, brogued Depp and the (literally) large-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), her nemesis in this netherworld.

The visual effects are overwhelming, but the story is resolutely underwhelming. As written by Carroll, its structure is indeed episodic, but hardly impossible to surmount — as other filmmakers have managed over the years. What’s missing here is Burton’s trademark quirkiness, which could easily have lent the proceedings an offbeat (and memorable) personality.

But it’s not there. Occasionally, Alice in Wonderland threatens to take flight, but by the end it becomes all to clear that it hasn’t. Earthbound, moribund… and maddeningly disappointing.

Burton trots out a parade of familiar faces and/or voices throughout the film: Anne Hathaway (the Red Queen), Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Stephen Fry, Imelda Staunton, Michael Sheen, Michael Gough and Christopher Lee. It’s nice having them around, but even this accumulated talent doesn’t amount to much overall, and few of them are onscreen long enough to make much of an impact.

The 3-D effects aren’t bad, but don’t add much to the narrative — which needs all the help it can get.

Too often the film resorts to mammoth spectacle, which tends to trample underfoot its otherwise good intentions and, more importantly, the charm of its characters, and in the denouement the film seems to be making an early statement regarding female empowerment. What this has to do with Lewis Carroll’s source material isn’t entirely clear, but suffice to say it’s not an improvement.

It’s no axiom of screen art, but She’s Out of My League, a raunchy romantic comedy which marks the feature debut of director Jim Field Smith, is consistently funny enough to earn its stripes as a potential spring sleeper.

Jay Baruchel plays Kirk, a likable fellow unlucky in love — at least until he meets Molly (Alice Eve), a blonde knockout. She’s every guy’s dream girl, but Kirk’s neuroses — rather specifically hinted at in the film’s title — tend to get in the way of true love.

Nevertheless, he does his best (and occasional worst) to woo and win her, resulting in some moments of genuine hilarity. As raucous as the film gets, there’s a sweetness at its core that keeps it enjoyable.

The onscreen chemistry between Baruchel and Eve isn’t exactly irresistible — which may be the point, to some extent — but they’re quite likable in their roles. So, too, are the supporting actors, many playing very familiar characters: TJ Miller, Mike Vogel and Nate Torrance as Kirk’s goofball buddies, Lindsay Sloane as Kirk’s monstrous ex-girlfriend (whom his parents still invite over to the house, much to his embarrassment), Kyle Bornheimer as Molly’s smarmy and smug ex-boyfriend and Krysten Ritter in the role of Molly’s acerbic, cynical best friend — a role that, not long ago, Zooey Deschanel might have played. All appear quite game to embrace the oft-raunchy absurdities that the film constantly lobs their way, and a lot of it works due to that easygoing enthusiasm.

By not setting its sights too high, or pushing matters too far, She’s Out of My League delivers what it promises: Raunch and romance, heavy on the raunch.

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