A sense of foreboding quickly takes hold in director Brad Silberling's fantastical children's tale Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events. It happens shortly after three orphaned children are removed from the custody of their villainous Uncle Olaf who aims to steal the fortune bequeathed to them by their deceased parents. In short, when Jim Carrey (as Olaf) is off-screen, the magic is dispelled and the weak links in this chain of mishaps are exposed.
Violet (Emily Browning), her brother Klaus (Liam Aiken) and baby sister Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are horrified by the Dickensian brand of cruelty inflicted upon them by Uncle Olaf. When he botches an attempt to kill them and pinch the family nest egg, the children are grateful to be shuttled to the next closest relative. But each time they settle, Olaf rears his ugly head and wreaks murderous havoc.
"UTTERLY DEVOID OF SUSPENSE"
Every new 'unfortunate event' echoes the last with only Carrey's nutty Nosferatu breaking the monotony between yawning intervals. Rather than boo, there's an urge to cheer when he arrives on the scene, each time adopting a new disguise. Conversely Meryl Streep fails to endear as the nerve-jangled Aunt Josephine while Billy Connolly is distinctly bland as the benevolent Uncle Monty. The children hold their own, but there's no doubting who the real star is.
While Silberling achieves the glossy, otherworldly gloom of a Tim Burton fairytale, there's little beneath the surface. He hints at a parable of bereavement, but doesn't weave this through the story with the same sense of conviction that marked his last feature Moonlight Mile. But the worst crime of all is that it's utterly devoid of suspense. Look up Charles Laughton's The Night Of The Hunter instead, because Lemony just doesn't have the juice.