Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 17th, 2010
DJ Felix Chester: "Circles. Circles. We all move in circles."
Malice in Wonderland is a pretty common title including several films and even a Snoop Dogg CD. Seems quite a few people have come up with this subtle play on the children's story name by adding one letter. This retelling of Alice in Wonderland brings the tale up to date with an American law student (Maggie Grace, Lost) running through London's colorful criminal underground. She's all set to meet junkies, whores, and mobsters while being led by a cab driver with a lucky white rabbit's foot named Whitey (Danny Dyer, Dead Man Running). The twist here is that Alice is a poor little rich girl who can't quite remember who she is -- thanks to being hit by Whitey's black cab at the start of the film. She takes pills from strangers, and whoosh she's in Wonderland, where everybody is heading to a party for a mobster just getting out of jail. Meanwhile her rich daddy, believing she has been kidnapped (like Grace was in Taken), has put out a ten million dollar reward for her safe return. Director Simon Fellows is known for low budget action films starring the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes after their prime, so this modern twist turns the Carroll literary classic into an action oriented crime drama. It works, in a strange way, and oddly enough feels more faithful to the book than it ever should have.
The acting is pretty good with two strong leads that take us through the journey. Maggie Grace replaced The O.C. star Mischa Barton during preproduction, and she makes for a solid and stable Alice. She's curious, but not too lost -- even with the amnesia. You never feel like she's merely a damsel in distress, but someone savvy enough to eventually figure out what this Wonderland means. Danny Dyer does his cockney criminal routine well, and he creates good chemistry with Grace. Together they hold the narrative together and make the journey good goofy fun. It reminds me a bit of Martin Scorsese's After Hours melded with the Alice in Wonderland tale we all know, because it has that sense of a city at night being a playground. The only downside to the film is that a city at night feels a little empty and not quite frenetic enough to be a Wonderland that we're used to. It sometimes feels too flat, but the colorful characters often make up for it.
Alice updates have been all the rage ever since Tim Burton decided to release his trippy 2010 version in theaters, and this one makes it straight to DVD just in time to cash in on the craze. The widescreen transfer is good with solid colors and excellent black levels, a crucial aspect since Wonderland is basically London at night lit only by neon. Strangely the picture does not appear to be anamorphically enhanced which might be because director Simon Fellows shot in a wider ratio than most independent films. The five channel surround mix concentrates on the dialogue nicely, and cranks in alternative music in-between the Lewis Carroll inspired chatter. Extras boil down to a ten minute "making of" feature which is only informative thanks to a sit-down with Grace. There is also a photo gallery.
I liked this version of an oft-told tale, and mainly because I am a fan of city life and the shady side of London. It's a nice twist, and I loved seeing Maggie Grace create a more headstrong Alice than we're used to. The DVD has a good transfer and a decent extra in the "making of" featurette. I wish we had more to clarify the vision and separate Malice in Wonderland from the Snoop Dogg CD. But something tells me he might approve, since they went all "gansta" with it.
Guilty of taking a children's classic and putting it through a Guy Ritchie filter.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Photo Gallery