Now here's a story for you: my brother, myself and two of my buddies walk into a movie theater to see a movie called Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. My buddies thought they were going to see the latest collaboration of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton - but they didn't know the movie was a musical. My brother and I, film aficionados, knew exactly what we were in for - or so we thought. My buddies spent most of the time laughing at how they got duped into going to see a musical with no female incentive (needless to say, it wasn't happy laughter), and I spent two hours wondering how I could be more disappointed than them.
I actually like musicals for the most part, despite not conforming to the standard demographic in any way, shape or form (straight, male, age 25), and I thought for sure that a musical about a twisted barber who kills people and feeds them to others in meat pies would be a sure bet. While neither Depp or Burton have any proven experience in musicals, it seemed like a done deal with those two working together... If only someone had informed me just how utterly boring and uninteresting Sweeney Todd was going to be, I might have gone to see Juno or Alvin and the Chipmunks instead!
Sweeney Todd really is a dreadful bore, and one can't completely blame Burton for this. I haven't seen the play and I could perhaps see how it could work a bit better as such, but I really can't comment on whether Burton managed to make this story drab or that he just decided to make an already-drab story into a movie. Either way, for a slightly surrealistic and utterly dark movie about serial killings and unbeknownst cannibalism, Sweeney Todd really has nothing going for it. The movie seems ripe for sprinklings of dark humor, but Sweeney Todd is almost barren of it. A little humor would have gone a long way, but the only laughs we get are during a scene where the title character goes from one victim to the next, drops them down a trap door and we get to see them land painfully on their heads and crumple into disfigured corpses. It may not sound funny, but it was funny - for just a minute. Oh, and Sacha Baron Cohen is quite enjoyable in a supporting role. The thing is, Sweeney Todd is a dark, gray, depressing movie of revenge and loss, but it's all but begging to be a comedy and it just isn't. I don't get it.
But what really kills Sweeney Todd (figuratively speaking) is the music. As I said earlier, I like musicals, but the kind of musicals I don't like - and this is also the reason that people say most when they mention they don't like musicals - are the kind where the actors simply turn sentences into song with a little inflection at the end. Sweeney Todd is absolutely full of some of the most uninteresting, uninspiring, unenjoyable music I have ever heard; with only one or two exceptions, every song in the movie (and I'm guessing also the play) isn't at all memorable, engaging or alluring. I like my musicals to have power, and Sweeney Todd has none.
To top things off, the acting and singing isn't all that great. Johnny Depp is decent enough in his role, and of everyone involved, his singing is the best (probably because his songs are the only songs that are given a fraction of enraged emotion), but I won't give Depp props simply for being Johnny Depp. Everyone else, however, is pretty much cringe inducing. Helena Bonham Carter, who managed to garner a Golden Globe nomination for her role considering that there have been so few leading actress performances this year, is quite bad; she's not a very good singer (although a lot of this may have to do with what she sings), and she seems to be in the movie just because her boyfriend wanted her to be. Jamie Campbell Bower is completely miscast. Alan Rickman is tolerable, until he starts singing. Cohen is the only truly enjoyable actor in the supporting cast.
Sweeney Todd is currently ranked in IMDB.com's Top 250 films of all time, but I do not understand the appeal at all. The movie isn't funny, powerful or entertaining, and the music is some of the worst music I have ever heard.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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