May 9, 2012

Commercially, the team of superstar Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton is doing quite nicely, thank you.

They’ve collaborated on eight movies since first joining forces on Edward Scissorhands back in 1990, with their previous effort, Alice in Wonderland, taking in more than a billion dollars at the box office worldwide.

Creatively, though, they’ve been in something of a tailspin for a while, dipping into the same old bag of quirky tricks again and again to ever diminishing returns.

Does their latest movie, Dark Shadows, see the Depp-Burton duo pull out of this tailspin? No, it sees them crash into a mountain and burst into flames.

Am I gonna have to separate you two? I am, aren’t I?

There’s no delicate way of putting this: Dark Shadows is a disaster. A debacle. A pointless, charmless lump of a thing with all the life of its undead protagonist, played professionally but uninspiringly by Depp.

An adaptation of a ‘70s soap opera that unexpectedly became a cult hit when it introduced vampires, werewolves and ghosts into its sudsy storylines, it suffers from myriad flaws, the most critical a identity crisis.

Is it meant to be a comedy? It sure as hell isn’t funny. Is it supposed to be spooky? The only scare I got was when I looked at my watch an hour in and realised I was only at the halfway mark. Is it maybe a melodrama? Why then is pretty much every character so dull and colourless?

It’s not like the material is uninteresting – anything that has a 18th century aristocrat cursed by the beautiful witch whose love he spurned to spend eternity as a vampire can’t be all bad, right?

But the saga of Depp’s Barnabas Collins, who watches helplessly as his true love falls to her death from a cliff before he’s entombed for two centuries, only to be freed in the strange new world of the 1970s, is given no passion or pulse by screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith.

And Burton’s direction, while heavy on the lurid production design, is listless and stale, failing to make Dark Shadows humourous, horrifying, engaging or entertaining in any way.

Most egregious is the film’s waste of a fine cast, the majority of who seem either sedated or disinterested.

I don’t blame you, Eva. Also, call me maybe?

Casino Royale’s Eva Green gives it a good try as the witchy Angelique, whose passion for Barnabas sets the whole thing in motion, but even she can’t overcome a production that comes across as misbegotten and misguided from the very first frame. Avoid at all costs.