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A Mere Reflection

Friday, September 30, 2005

Dave McKean's "MirrorMask" is so single-minded in its reach for fantasy, it becomes the genre's evil opposite: banality.

Fifteen-year-old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a reluctant supporting act for her circus-performing parents and dreams of living in "the real world." When her mother (Gina McKee) takes ill, Helena finds herself lost in an alternative dream world full of strange beings, including weirdos in masks, birdlike creatures and spidery insects who bear a single, human eye.

Accompanied by a masked juggler named Valentine (Jason Barry), Helena learns she must find a "mirror mask" to save her mother, the good queen of this shadow world. Dorothy -- excuse me, Helena -- also has to escape the clutches of the Queen of the Darkland (also played by McKee), who wants Helena as a surrogate for her missing daughter. At one point, through a mirror portal, Helena sees a meaner, alternative version of herself, now living in the real world.

Unfortunately, the storyline is a monotonous spin-cycling of elements from "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and other fairy tales in which an innocent girl faces up to an evil queen. Doppelganger dramas, too, are thrown in for bad measure. McKean's often lovely surrealistic compositions cannot mask the yellowed brick road of Helena's journey.

-- Desson Thomson

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