2 stars (out of four)
It is pointless to summarize the story of "MirrorMask," a trippy fantasy flick from graphic novel whiz kids Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman. Pointless because for all its flying cats with rainbow wings and navigational library books, "MirrorMask" barely has a story, its talent and vision focused entirely on its singular dreamworld facade.
Working for her family's circus, 15-year-old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a pretty typical teen: mad at her ringleader parents and threatening to run off and join the, umm, real world. She says some nasty things to mom (Gina McKee) and thenpoof!mom comes down with a mysterious disease and Helena feels awfully guilty.
Terribly distressed on the eve of her mother's surgery, Helena goes down the rabbit hole into the Dark Lands, a fantastical otherworld filled with monkeybirds and sphinxes. There she meets the ailing Queen of Light (the good queen) and the tyrannical Queen of Shadows (the bad queen)both look suspiciously like her mother, not that Helena noticesand learns that she must find this thing called a Mirrormask in order to save the good from the bad (and, you assume, her mom).
Now, let me tell you: This Mirrormask is no Holy Grail, no Wizard of Oz, no Labyrinth. Gaiman, who is chiefly responsible for the screenplay, never clues us into the power and/or mythological identity of this mask, even though Helena spends the entire movie looking for it. I wouldn't know that mask if it fused itself to my face today.
Anyhoo, Helena teams up with this creepy weirdo named Valentine (Jason Barry), whose chin gives new meaning to the term "square jaw" and who sort of helps her navigate the Dark Lands. You won't like him.
In fact, you won't really like anyone, not even Helena, whose starry-eyed optimism in the face of grim unknowns is completely off-base. What is this girl smiling about?
I'm not sure who McKean, the acclaimed illustrator of the "Sandman" series of graphic novels, is going for here. "MirrorMask" is way too dark for kids, way too simplistic for adults and I'd bet even his fanboys won't care too much for Helena's journey or her dark-side makeover set to "Close to You" (though they might not admit it).
It's an unsettling thing to see such a strange and beautiful world on screen and yet be bored to tears.
Fernando was wrong: It's not better to look good than to feel good. In fact, it's no good at all.
Directed by Dave McKean; written by Neil Gaiman; story by McKean and Gaiman; photographed by Antony Shearn; edited by Nicolas Gaster; production designed by McKean; music by Iain Ballamy; produced by Simon Moorhead. A Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: PG (some mild thematic elements and scary images).
Helena/Anti-Helena - Stephanie Leonidas
Valentine - Jason Barry
Joanne/Queen of Light/Queen of Shadows - Gina McKee
Morris Campbell/Prime Minister - Rob BrydonCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times