The owners of the “Harry Potter” franchise have something to fear. Powerhouse comedian Jim Carrey has lent his substantial services to the newest instant children’s classic-turned-film, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” As a result, “Ocean’s Twelve” was bounced from the top of the box office charts, with “Lemony” pulling in $30.2 million during its opening weekend.
“Potter” regular Alan Rickman was originally cast as the evil Count Olaf, but marketed-minded DreamWorks execs wisely gave the plum part to Carrey, who makes it his own and steals the show. Whiz production designer Rick Heinrichs has equaled the star’s flamboyance with sets which present a wild Charles Dickens world with cars. The malevolently strange story is slickly adapted by Robert Gordon from the three of the 11 Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) books. The ubiquitous Jude Law plays obscurely-lit Lemony as he narrates his tale while writing it.
Under the sure hand of director Brad Silberling, we learn that the three uniquely-gifted Baudelaire children have been abruptly made orphans after a flash fire destroyed their house and parents. The orphans, resourceful Violet (Emily Browning),14; bookworm Klaus (Liam Aiken), 12; and “biter” baby Sunny (twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman), are whisked away by lawyer Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) to their nearest living relative (“nearest” in terms of actual distance from their burned up home). The first “unfortunate” aspect of the story is that Olaf is a blatant villain, wanting nothing more than to dispose of the children and collect their inheritance. An out-of-work actor and over-the-top ham, the count concocts a series of schemes to kill the kids. When Olaf’s found out, Mr. Poe deposits the children under the guardianship of other freaky family members: First, snake charmer Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and, then, the paranoid Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep). Both guardians meet their demise at the hands of Olaf, who barely conceals his identity in silly disguises.
As Lemony warns us in the opening scene, his tale is not for the faint of heart, as are many of the stories written by the Brothers Grimm. However, despite Carrey’s bombast, he’s not a real threat, in the way Rickman may have been.
Still, “Unfortunate” is a lot of fun. Carrey fans will have a feast.