So Tim Burton and Disney team up and make a movie that rakes in the cash and what happens? Every studio under the sun releases whatever Alice or Wonderland related title it may have, be it a catalogue title, as was the case with Universal and the BBC, or a newer take on the story, as it was with Lionsgate's Alice and the movie we have here, Malice In Wonderland from Magnet. Not all of these adaptations are good, and even fewer of them are great, but thankfully Malice In Wonderland is, if not the ultimate reworking of a classic children's story, at least an interesting and entertaining attempt.
Set in the modern day, the film starts Maggie Grace as Alice, an American-born law student studying abroad in London, England. While out and about one day, she has the misfortune of being struck down by a fast moving and ominous looking black cab driven by a cabbie named Whitey (Danny Dyer). When she wakes up, she's obviously suffering from amnesia and, after taking a pill offered to her by Whitey, a stranger (never a wise move), seems to have somehow travelled to a different world entirely - of course, this is Wonderland, but not the kind you necessarily expect.
When she arrives in this strange land, she finds out that there's a party being thrown for a crime kingpin, Harry Hunt (Nathaniel Parker), who has recently been let out of jail. Everyone who is anyone is going, and they're all planning some sort of bank job. Meanwhile back in the 'normal land' Alice's father fears that his daughter is the victim of a kidnapping and puts out a substantial reward for her safe return. Alice, with some help from Whitey, has to figure out who she is and where she's headed. Of course, it all leads up to her trying to get back home again, but along the way, as she interacts with different and sometimes rather dubious characters, she learns about herself and even manages to find some unexpected romance.
Director Simon Fellows (best known for working with Jean Claude Van Damme on a few entertaining straight to video action movies) basically mixes up Lewis Carroll's original story with elements culled from a Guy Ritchie movie or maybe some sort of Tarantino-inspired pulp/crime story with decidedly uneven results. The themes and ideas that the storyline plays around with are interesting in their own right but they never really come together the way that a good story should, resulting in an uneven flow and an ending that feels rather half-assed. Thankfully, the performances are decent enough that the film is still very much worth a watch. Maggie Grace is not only easy on the eyes but a pretty decent actress as well and it's encouraging to see her taking feature roles now that LOST has run its course. Her work in Taken proves that she's capable of handling feature film material and while there are awkward moments to her performance in this film, those can be attributed more to immature dialogue than the actresses delivery. Most of the time she's got some believable smarts to her character that makes it easier to suspend our disbelief than it may have been had another actress played the lead.
The film definitely delivers a darker side than previous adaptations of Carroll's writing, throwing in drug use, profanity violence and general overall seediness in fairly healthy doses and setting the whole ordeal inside a grittier and dirtier Wonderland than any you've likely seen before. On a visual level, the film is interesting and it makes good use of color and uses its inner city setting to nice effect. The pacing and editing, however, is erratic and not all together proper in how it lets the story flow. The film is a bit choppy because of this, erratic even, in that we wind up spending more time with characters who aren't as interesting and less time with those who are.
There's enough that is interesting about the film that despite its flaws, it's worth a watch. The film is far from perfect but Grace's performance helps quite a bit and if the ideas aren't as fleshed out or filled in as well as they could have, if nothing else, the film is visually keen and entertaining enough.
Malice In Wonderland is presented on DVD in a 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks good despite a few flaws. The transfer seems to struggle whenever it has to deal with heavy black levels, showing some nasty compression artifacts at times and wrestling with shadow detail problems. Lighter scenes fare much better, showing strong color reproduction and nice, accurate looking flesh tones. Some scenes look softer than others do, a problem which looks to stem from the elements used for the transfer rather than the transfer itself, but that might irritate some. There aren't any problems with print damage to note nor is there any obvious dirty, debris or heavy grain. This isn't a flawless picture, but it's certainly more than watchable.
The only audio option offered is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, but it's a decent one. Surrounds are regularly used quite effectively and the score has some nice punch to it. Levels are well balanced and dialogue is easy to follow and understand throughout the duration of the movie.
The only really substantial extra on this disc is a ten minute Making Of Featurette that contains some decent footage and interview bit with Grace that make it worth watching, even if it is fairly superficial and doesn't go nearly as in depth as it could and should have. Aside from that, there are menus and chapter stops, a still gallery and trailers for a few other unrelated Magnet DVD releases.
Malice In Wonderland isn't a masterpiece by any stretch but it does offer up an interesting, if imperfect and obviously flawed, alternate take on some source material that's been around the block more than a few times. Grace's fan base will appreciate it more than casual viewers but in spite of all this, it's quirky and different enough that it's worth a look, even if you won't likely ever need to see it more than once. Consider this one a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.