Film reviews: Dark Shadows and The Dictator

Herald Series: Film reviews: Dark Shadows and The Dictator Film reviews: Dark Shadows and The Dictator

Director Tim Burton sealed his creative marriage to Johnny Depp more than 20 years ago with the brilliantly dark and twisted fairytale Edward Scissorhands.

Their long and fruitful partnership hits a sticky patch with Dark Shadows (12A), a misfiring fish-out-of-water comedy based on a cult TV series awash with vampires, ghosts and witches. While the supernatural subject matter and gothic gloom sound perfect for Burton, the script by Seth Grahame-Smith is an unholy mess, stumbling between comedy, action, horror and romance, without any clue how to navigate these shifts in tone.

The director’s imaginative style is strangely muted — even Danny Elfman’s usually infectious score is off-key, continually giving way to a soundtrack of toe-tapping favourites from Donovan, Elton John and Moody Blues.

When The Carpenters trill Top Of The World, we know with a heavy heart that we’re not even close.In the mid-18th century, Barnabas Collins (Depp) spurns the advances of servant Angelique (Eva Green), who is a witch, and falls in love with Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote).

In revenge, Angelique kills Josette then transforms the object of her dangerous obsession into a hideous vampire and buries him alive. Almost 200 years later, construction workers unearth Barnabas’s cast-iron coffin and the fanged fiend is unleashed in swinging 1972 Maine.

While Barnabas acclimatises to the groovy customs of the era, he seeks sanctuary at his ancestral home, Collinwood Manor, with the latest branch of the family tree headed by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Other members of the kooky clan include Elizabeth’s sassy teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), wastrel brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his 10-year-old son David (Gulliver McGrath).

Eccentric caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), psychiatrist Dr Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and new governess Victoria (Heathcote again) also wander the Manor’s dark corridors.

To restore the family’s fortunes, Barnabas risks the wrath of Angelique once again, telling his nemesis: “You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!” Dark Shadows is a morass of disparate, half-formed ideas. Barnabas’s awkward integration into the 20th century provides cheap laughs.

He decries the golden arches of a fast food chain as the work of the Devil and is shocked that Carolyn is footloose and fancy free: “Fifteen and no husband? You must put those birthing hips to good use at once lest your womb shrivel up and die!”

Period is nicely recreated, from the retina-searing fashions to Deliverance, A Clockwork Orange and Superfly screening at the local cinema. Depp sinks his pearly whites into his role and Green vamps it up to the hilt but many of the supporting cast are superfluous, not least Miller who serves no dramatic purpose. Eventually screenwriter Grahame-Smith gives up on his two-dimensional character and we abandon Burton’s muddled vision soon after.

Sacha Baron Cohen atones for the sins of Bruno with this gleefully bad taste fish-out-of-water comedy, which kicks sand in the eye of political correctness. We’re in a perpetual state of discomfort during The Dictator (15) unsure where the scriptwriters might venture next for uneasy laughs.

No subject is off limits — the September 11 attacks, rape, sexual equality, Judaism — and Larry Charles’s film tramples merrily over social taboos, hitting more targets than it misses as the titular despot runs amok in the capitalist playground of New York City.

We can’t resist a wry smile when Cohen’s abominable protagonist makes a speech to American dignitaries and exposes the Land Of The Free as a dictatorship in all but name. A flash of full frontal male nudity takes us by hysterical surprise and Megan Fox and Edward Norton embrace brief cameos as themselves.

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