Syfy's Alice -- An early look
by Mike Moody, posted Dec 4th 2009 5:02PM
It's hard for me to get excited about something like Alice, Syfy's twisted new take on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. NBC and Syfy seemingly produce these modern versions of classic tales for the same reason Hollywood studios push out stale remakes and sequels – because they already have a built in audience. And the producers don't have to worry about coming up with an original story. All they have to do is force some contempo quirkiness into the age-old text and be done with it. (Make the flamingos flying machines! Turn the caterpillar into a hookah-smoking Harry Dean Stanton!)
Similar to Syfy's Tin Man, its dark and tedious Wizard of Oz redo, Alice offers a bizarre retread of its classic source material. But writer-director Nick Willing (the brains behind Tin Man) smartly sets his tale in a futuristic version of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. And he's created a brand new Alice too. She's a tough twentysomething brunette who teaches martial arts and high-kicks bad guys in the face.
Alice (Caterina Scorsone) follows her kidnapped boyfriend through the looking glass and ends up in a dystopian fantasy world -- Wonderland, 150 hard years after the original Alice's trip down the rabbit hole. The place is ruled by the wicked Queen of Hearts (an over-the-top Kathy Bates) who dopes her subjects with liquid emotions drained from kidnapped humans. After a quick tour of Wonderland's fantastic horrors, Alice meets the crafty young Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts), and they set off on a mildly amusing quest to find her boyfriend and topple the Queen's rule.
The lead performers are Alice's greatest assets. Scorsone is confident and rarely boring, and Potts steals the show as the scruffy and charming Hatter (which means I'll now have to start watching his BBC series, Primeval.) The supporting cast offers a few pleasant surprises – like a spry Tim Curry as Dodo and Matt Frewer as the goofy White Knight – but talented actors like Colm Meaney and Battlestar Galactica's Alessandro Juliani are wasted in small thankless roles.
Alice offers some fun trippy moments and a clever take on Wonderland (I can't comment on the final visual effects, since our screener was a rough cut), but it never really takes off or comes close to capturing the imagination. (Its four-hour running time might be partly to blame.) Some clumsy "message" moments, a simplistic chase movie plot, and a predictable sentimental ending snuff out what little spark this thing has going for it.
Alice premieres December 6 at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy.