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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Rated R, 117 min. Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener.

REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Dec. 21, 2007

There are a few reasons why you'd probably want to steer clear of Sweeney Todd (Depp). For one, it's six to five and pick ’em whether or not he'll slice your throat open with a straight razor, leaving you to gasp for life while spurting blood all over his newly refurbished barber's chair. Two, if he does kill you, most likely he's going to hand your corpse over to loopy, pasty-faced restaurateur Mrs. Lovett (Bonham Carter) so she can cook it into a meat pie. And three, even if you do manage to escape being turned into supper, there's no escaping the slow death by monotony you'll experience after spending a few days in his company. Like some religious fanatic, Todd is a sounding bell playing the same note over and over again, ad nauseam: "Revenge, revenge, revenge," he crows. Which may sound more exciting than, say, "latkes, latkes, latkes," but watching Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage musical, I was struck by just how dull violent retribution can be when it's all someone ever talks (or, in this case, sings) about. The focus of Todd's bloody obsession is Judge Turpin (Rickman), a sinister megalomaniac who 15 years earlier stole Todd's wife and young daughter and sent him to prison in Australia. Now back in London (which, he sings, is a "hole in the world/like a great black pit/and the vermin of the world/inhabit it"), Todd is only interested in two things: reopening his shop and slicing Turpin into little bits. After that? Retirement, I suppose, or vocal lessons. Burton's gorgeously grim film (his sixth with Depp) is loyal to Sondheim's original, both in spirit and structure; it's dark and Gothic and drenched in blood, and it forgoes excessive dialogue in the name of getting quickly to the next murky, malevolent, yet strangely forgettable tune. Poor Depp, though, isn't up to the challenge of a musical. He may look menacing with his ivory skin and flashing eyes, but he sings like he's three drinks into a night at the local karaoke bar. Which is a problem because Todd is constantly singing – to Lovett, to Turpin, to London, even to his razors. So by the time he gets that long-wished-for shot at restitution, I didn't care anymore if he succeeded or not, so long as he stopped singing about it. By that point I'd already decided life would be better inside a quiet meat pie.
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