Malice in Wonderland

Malice in Wonderland (2009)

“You’ll get it back, later.”

Here’s an idea, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, is going to come out and be a big hit, so let’s take the same classic story but remake it with a hard R rating, an incredibly British production sensibility and then let’s have that blonde girl from the first couple seasons of Lost star as Alice. We’ll call it Malice in Wonderland. It’ll be brilliant! Well, ok, it it’s not brilliant, but it has its moments. It’s definitely creative, and I liked it.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is almost certainly one of the more repeatedly adapted works in the Western cannon, a book that is, (apparently, I’ve never read it,) rife with strange behavior and allusions to drug use and violence it’s not surprising to me that it eventually someone produced a version that stripped down the allusion and turned out a weird trip of a film filled with blatant drug use, violence and sexuality. To be honest the production, featuring a cast of what seem to be primarily second-tier British TV stars, with a second-tier American TV star as the lead, could have been an utter disaster. Yet it succeeds quite nicely.

Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the plot: “A modern take on the famous fairy tale by Carroll about a university student (Maggie Grace) who is knocked over by a black cab in London. When she wakes up she has amnesia, lost in a world that is a long way from home—Wonderland. She is dragged through a crazy twisted underworld filled with bizarre individuals and low-lifers, by the cab driver, Whitey (Danny Dyer). Confused, she tries to find out who she is, where she’s from and use what wits she has left to get back home safe.” The film does a good job of capturing the well-established story beats, all the important characters that I was expecting to see were present in one form or another. Although, some are hardly recognizable. While others such as The Mad Hatter’s transformation into Madam Hattie, (the proprietor of a mobile brothel,) are a bit more of a stretch. I was particularly entertained by the scene featuring Paul Kaye as Caterpillar, and also by the performance turned in by Gary Beadle as the grinning DJ Felix Chester.

The plot doesn’t always make a lot of sense, and and things, including the portions leading into and out of the trip to Neverland are a bit surreal. In this film’s case that is actually a plus. It manages to maintain a highly surreal atmosphere  and move quickly from one encounter with a quirky and entertaining character to another, without getting bogged down while trying to get characters from one place to another. Given that Carroll’s novel has been cited as the example of “Literary Nonsense,” the strange characters brilliantly odd dialogue and strange jumps in the plot strike me as entirely appropriate. In re-framing a story that is probably best known from a Disney cartoon, as an adult-oriented film, the director Simon Fellows is obviously taking a risk. But in all honesty the adult-oriented plot elements don’t seem at all out of place. If anything, the film could probably have pushed things a little further.

In the end, this is a weird disjointed movie that succeeds because that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. Everyone from the set-decorators to the cast is solid. However, I’m left wishing that the film had been done with everything turned up just another notch. A bigger budget, a better cast, and an even harder edge might have propelled this to must see status. What we get instead falls well short of being an essential but is still very much worth seeing.

[Malice in Wonderland (2009) – Directed by Simon Fellows – Rated R for language, some sexual content, drug use and brief violence]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing