Dave's Rating:

2.5

The fumblingest of them all.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who eats raw bird hearts and takes baths in Elmer's Glue and hollers like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest and black-widow sexes guys to death and sucks the virgin breath out of teen models and aspires to Kristen Stewart-based cannibalism best of all?

It's a rhetorical question. You know the answer. And, lucky us, Charlize Theron decided to commandeer this film for her own purposes, delivering the hissingest, preeningest, shoutingest, screechingest, nakedest, writhingest, wigglingest, stabbingest performance of 2012 to date. It's more than worth the cost of a ticket and may wind up edging its way into film history alongside Dunaway and Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls as one of the great go-for-broke moments of misunderstood female awesomeness.

As for rest of it, may I interest you in a a beautiful-looking and directionless mess that mashes up Excalibur, Princess Mononoke, Otto Preminger's Saint Joan, all rote superhero origin stories and whatever your favorite romantic drama starring two people with no romantic chemistry happens to be? There are worse choices lurking at the multiplex, so why not?

The story goes like it always goes: the queen is pissed off that she's getting old and when the Mirror Mirror (here resembling a phantom made of shiny butterscotch syrup) lies to her and tells her that she does not, in fact, look exactly like Charlize Theron but more like Charlize Theron in Monster, she's got to eat the heart of Snow White (Stewart) to make it stop. Enter The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a frequently drunk man whose ability to fight seems to depend on whatever mood the script happens to be in and whose backstory -- the queen killed his wife -- is more compelling than any single moment he shares with the inert young woman he's eventually going to have to kiss the life back into.

Now, no matter what the Internet tells you there isn't much out there that qualifies as "epic" failure. There are always shades of gray, matters of degree. And because the movie itself is never really sure what it wants to be -- honestly, Spice World has a more complex understanding of the concept of "girl power" than this thing -- from it you can parse just about any message of female empowerment or retro misogyny you choose. Is Snow, our bedraggled warrior-heroine, a cipher? A damaged post-traumatic stress disorder patient? A superhero in waiting? In need of someone, anyone, to rescue her from, well, everything? Will the magic forest cooperate with her when its magic rules already seem so arbitrary? And why, in her Henry V/Braveheart sequence, when she really needs to rally the troops to go after Mecha-Charlize, why can't she take a few deeper breaths and really let it rip? The movie's not telling. And you won't much care. The camera will eventually find its way back to the huffing, puffing, black-feather-suited Theron and, when it does, she'll be snacking on bloody red bird hearts like they're popcorn shrimp. Nice.

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