METAMORPHOSING GRINCH TO BIG SCREEN PROVES NO CINCH

Who could rain displeasure on a Christmas tale that tries to be sincere, yet still seems to fail? Why, a Grinch, that’s Who, and that would be me, to tell you there’s too much shtick from Jim Carrey.

The costumes astound, the sight gags abound, but the heart, oh the heart, now that must be found.

Let me be clear, this is not the Dr. Seuss classic here. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is Ron Howard’s remake, and oh, the paths that he goes and the directions he takes.

You see, the Grinch, the tale tells, was teased as a child. His green skin, his hairy face, made him reviled. He fled to Mount Crumpit around Christmastime, where he lives quite alone except for Max, his companion canine.

Little Taylor Momsen is the too cute Cindy Lou, who flashes adorable smiles, but only on cue. She is the innocent, the moral conscience of what Christmas is about. Yet why does she lack the distinctive Who snout? Her little button nose, yes, it’s very cute; she’ll make you say “Awwww.” But it’s cowardly, it’s contrary, it’s a great fatal flaw.

Cindy Lou is finding out the why of this Grinch Who, and she’s also looking to find what Christmas means, too. It can’t be all lights and presents and such. The way the Whos fuss, it all seems “a bit much.” But again, why does Cindy Lou lack her Who snout? What was director Ron Howard thinking about?

Carrey’s Grinch is a self-loathing curmudgeon who lives in a cave that’s more like a dungeon. To drown out the sounds of holiday cheer, he has a giant monkey clapping cymbals over his ears.

Mugging and agile, he is replaying “The Mask,” but his energy is wasted in this thankless task. He should be more menacing and almost aloof, but instead he makes prank calls and plays a big goof. A firmer hand might have calmed Carrey’s antics, but instead, his Grinch comes out needy and frantic.

The Grinch envies the Whos, but really, what’s the reason? Oh, yes, they look happy celebrating the season. There are Big Whos unicycling and Tiny Whos playing horns. They scurry and squeak and are preciously adorned. Whoville is like Munchkinland, but in washed-out pastels, and the Whos are shallow and sometimes quite mean themselves.

It’s a fairy tale made without faith, and with calculated schmaltz, where fine glistening moments and the message get lost. Misplaced jokes, poor script, shoehorned musical numbers it all could have worked, but oh, how they blundered.

The only words that shine come from Dr. Seuss, whose words narrated by Anthony Hopkins have not grown tarnished from use. So the message that Tinseltown still needs to know is the Grinch is not the only one whose heart needs to grow.

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