I did wonder whether Burton has exhausted his bag of tricks. Preening Johnny Depp in a fright wig? Lady-love Helena Bonham Carter in supporting role? Colorful but off-kilter sets? Danny Elfman score? Check, check, check, check.
I could have forgiven it all if this film hadn't been so boring. Yet despite appending bookends about Victorian garden parties and international commerce, and making Alice (Mia Wasikowska) a full-grown woman on a return visit to the "wonderland" of her youthful dreams, a coherent, compelling storyline never emerges.
Alice encounters all of the requisite creatures from Carroll's books (Alice, Through the Looking Glass), such as the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Depp), the Red Queen (Carter), Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the White Rabbit. But now there are chase scenes, magic swords, inter-kingdom warfare, a dragon(!) to be vanquished, and some holiday that makes the Mad Hatter channel Michael Jackson. It's alternately dull and frantic, with the pretty but vapid Wasikowska and the madcap Depp quickly wearing out their welcomes.
The bright spot in the film is Carter, whom Burton depicts as a gigantic Elizabeth I-type head atop a much smaller body. Carter delivers her lines with a hearty, demented brio that isn't as self-consciously showy as Depp's endlessly morphing accents and facial tics. I also adored all the heart motifs that the production designer worked into the queen's stylings.
But viewers searching for the more elusive heart -- the sad-sweet centers that mark Burton's better films -- will be disappointed. There's just a lot of meaningless, color-saturated clutter and clatter down this rabbit hole. In 3-D at select theaters. (Al Hoff) [2 out of 4 stars]
Despite pressure from his superior, a small-town Romanian police detective named Cristi is reluctant to book a teen-ager for a petty hashish offense. (The kid merely lights up on the way to school.) Cristi fears the punishment will outweigh the crime and ruin the young man's life; it is not something he wants on his conscience. Thus, he spends the next few days trying to sort out both the "crime" and how to proceed with his boss.
Corneliu Porumboiu's spare film is not a police procedural for fans of either CSI or Hollywood shoot-'em-ups. This is a very slow film, made even more torpid by its bleak and shabby locales. Cristi spends a lot of time on surveillance, just watching, and even his tasks around the station house feel executed in real time.
The film's "action" is internal: All of Cristi's watching and administrative minutia is a search for a truth he can live with; we are watching an exercise of his conscience. For the patient, the pay-off comes in the last reel, when, of all things, a dictionary is introduced. (The film's other "action" is semantic.)
Police isn't as outright entertaining as Porumboiu's earlier 12:08 East of Bucharest. But, like that film, viewers knowledgeable about Romania's recent history will glean more of the embedded social critique and subtle dark humor. In Romanian, with subtitles. Starts Fri., March 12. Harris (AH) [3 out of 4 stars]