Malice in Wonderland

The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

(2009) Fantasy (Magnet) Maggie Grace, Danny Dyer, Matt King, Nathaniel Parker, Bronagh Gallagher, Anthony Higgins, Steve Haze, Christian Patterson, Dave Lynn, Gary Beadle, Amanda Boxer, Paul Kaye, Matthew Stirling, Alan McKenna, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, Steve Furst, Pam Ferris, Garrick Hagon, Sandra Dickinson, Elizabeth Goram-Smith. Directed by Simon Fellows

The rabbit hole isn’t what it used to be. This re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll classic translocates Wonderland into a seedy urban/suburban Manchester, populated with basically every Brit gangster film actor of the last few years. Would Guy Ritchie approve?

Alice (Grace) is an American studying law in London. She’s returning home from a study session when she’s knocked down by a sinister black cab driven by Whitey (Dyer), a pill-procuring cabby who is obsessively concerned about tardiness, which seems to bother him more than you’d think it should. Sound familiar?

When she comes to, she’s forgotten who she is and what she’s doing there. Whitey seems to be her only link to finding out who she is. Whitey is mostly disinterested; as with everyone in a Lewis Carroll tale (or a British gangster movie for that matter) his priority is to take care of his own business. However eventually he begins to feel something for Alice who is pretty much a pawn in a much larger game that she is completely clueless is even being played.

The visuals here are pretty nifty and I like the mash-up of fantasy and gangster concept. Unfortunately it isn’t executed particularly well. It can be hard making sense of the various and sundry characters that come and go – I suppose those who are really up on the Wonderland books will be able to figure out the corresponding characters here, some obvious (Whitey = White Rabbit), some not so much (Harry Hunt = the King and maybe the Queen as well). However, I get the sense that the writers spent a great deal of energy fitting Alice into the new milieu without really asking the question of whether she belongs there in the first place – I think she does although perhaps not in the way they had in mind.

Grace, who had just finished her work in Lost when she filmed this, can be a marvelous actress but I got the sense that she was floundering here. Part of the problem is the writers turned Alice from a plucky heroine into a whiny drug-addled victim who bounces from the clutches of one nefarious villain to another. Part of the appeal of the Carroll story is the strength of character that Alice possesses that allow her to navigate the treacherous landscape whose rules defy not only what Alice is used to but of common sense and logic as well.

The story is occasionally hard to follow even knowing the tale of Alice from childhood. All the rivalries and alliances among the denizens of Wonderland are often tangled and obscure, while the motivations are even more so. I found myself with a great big headache trying to make sense of all this. Granted, Alice in Wonderland has always struck me as kind of a kid’s version of an acid trip without actually ingesting any drugs, but unfortunately this version turns out to be more of a bummer than anything else.

WHY RENT THIS: Creative concept. Some nice visuals.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A confusing mess.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of bad language, a little bit of violence and sexuality and some brief drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of Fellows’ credits previous to this were direct-to-video action films starring Jean-Claude van Damme.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Forbidden Zone

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Seabiscuit

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