The tried-and-true tandem of director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp -- who have collaborated on a plethora of films since first teaming up for "Edward Scissorhands" in 1990 -- is often a tantalizing proposition. But not every Burton/Depp offering is must-see cinema. ("Alice in Wonderland" from 2010 certainly had its naysayers.)
The duo's latest strange brew, "Dark Shadows," lands in the "underwhelming" category. "Shadows" isn't an abomination, but it falls well short of the high expectations viewers anticipate from two of the industry's top talents.
The film, based on a popular TV show from the late 1960s, plays as something of a comedy-horror hybrid. But it lacks the real humor of a good comedy and chills of an effective horror. In trying to walk the tightrope between two genres, "Shadows" tumbles somewhere into the murky middle, where ho-hum movies go to die.
Depp, playing a vampire for the first time in his storied career, is 18th-century bloodsucker Barnabas Collins. Barnabas acquires his fang-toothed curse after spurning clingy lover Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green of "Casino Royale"), who turns out to be a very jealous witch. Angelique's machinations lead Barnabas to stay buried for the better part of two centuries. The year is 1972 when he finally rises from his coffin.
The once-proud fishing town of Collinsport, Maine, that Barnabas' family established is now essentially run by Angelique, whose witchery has made her all but immortal. And Barnabas' family home, Collinwood Manor, has grown decrepit. Those who reside in the mansion are all that's left of the Collins family: matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer); Elizabeth's smarmy brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); teen malcontent Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); and innocent youngster David (Gulliver McGrath). Therapist-in-residence Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), drunkard butler Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and housemaid Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) -- who bears an uncanny resemblance to Barnabas' long-ago true love -- round out the motley crew.
Burton's trademark style is evident throughout, and watching Depp (excellent as usual) portray a blast-from-the-past vampire is entertaining, at least. The film also boasts a nice performance by Green (who looks like Anne Hathaway's long-lost sister) and strong production values, such as make-up and set design. And the filmmakers have some fun with the time period, including a soundtrack that features great music from the early '70s.
Strangely, "Shadows" seems like the gothic version of "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." The central character awakens to a modern time he can't quite understand and hilarity ensues (or, in this case, doesn't ensue). Said character is out-of-sorts in a world that has moved on without him, yet he is pivotal to quashing a megalomaniac's plot. Rehashing old jokes is no way to win over an audience.
Add another addition to the growing Depp-Burton library -- although "Dark Shadows" is hardly the team's brightest creation.