Abandoned by her father as a child, the independent twenty-one-year-old Alice is accustomed to men being unpredictable, but Jack Chase is something else. Just moments after surprising her with a rare family ring, heas suddenly kidnapped by two thugs and driven into darkness. It is then that Alice is confronted by a sharply dressed stranger who calls himself White Rabbit, and who promises to know more about Jack than she. Where Alice follows him is through the liquid glass of an ornate mirror. Where she lands is Wonderland, an outlandish underground city of twisted towers and parapets, staircases conceived in a Dali dream, and an otherworldly purple horizon. Soon, the wordas out that Wonderland has its most prized captive. It seems Alice has the ring that controls the looking glassathe key to the power of the Queen of Hearts. It was mad folly for her son Jack to give it to a girl he barely knew. But Jack had his reasons. Discovering them is up to Alice.
Writer-director Nick Willing, who turned The Wizard of Oz on its ear with 2007’s Tin Man, takes a similar approach to another childhood classic with Alice, one of the more visually striking and offbeat live-action adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy stories. Willing’s Alice (Caterina Scorsone) is a grown woman–and a karate instructor to boot–whose lack of luck in love seems to have finally taken a turn toward the positive with Jack (Philip Winchester). Their idyll is shattered when Jack is abducted, and Alice’s search for him leads her to Wonderland–the one visited by Carroll’s Alice a century ago, but now overrun by gloom and vice and anachronistic machinery, and lorded over by a Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates) who kidnaps people from the “real” world to harvest their emotions. Willing’s Alice looks impressive, with its richly saturated colors and CGI environment that suggests a world with one foot in Carroll’s absurd realm and the other in a futuristic dystopia, and he’s abetted by a terrific supporting cast, including Matt Frewer (as the White Knight), Harry Dean Stanton (Caterpillar), Tim Curry (Dodo), and Primeval‘s Andrew Lee Potts as a sort of glam-rock Mad Hatter. But his script can’t match the level of imagination in his direction–Scorsone, a likable actress, is left to wander passively to each scenario–which renders the project another exercise in style over substance. The sole extra is a lightweight commentary track by Willing and Scorsone that is more conversational than informative. –Paul Gaita