This "Grinch" is the same ol' story Doc rhymed back in '57, plus a whole lot more, and less. 

O, the Who-manity

Universal may have struck the holiday mother lode with Ron Howard's live-action re-do of Dr. Seuss' classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Though Howard's "Grinch" is as sticky sweet as any Christmas confection, its visual extravagance pales only in comparison to the central performance by Jim Carrey. Physically manic and verbally clever, Carrey dares us not to be awed by the sheer force of his talent. The minute the Grinchified Carrey takes to the screen, any reservations or dread about this reworking of a childhood favorite are swept aside, at least temporarily. No doubt Howard and Universal had visions of "The Wizard of Oz" dancing in their heads as they plotted and pitched this picture. And while "The Grinch" seems destined to a long shelf life and annual airings at holiday time for decades to come, it lacks the heart and genuine whimsy of the 1957 classic. Instead, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" has a frantic, insistent whimsy that becomes exhausting by the movie's end. But there's also much about this Howard-Carrey collaboration that's entertaining: Most notably, Carrey's incredible turn as The Grinch. This is more mesmerizing than spellbinding; you can't help but enjoy it, even if you're slightly amazed at how far the star is willing to go, and how flat the movie feels when he's not in sight. While Theodore Geisel's (aka Dr. Seuss) lengthy rhyme had just enough plot to fill a 22-minute TV cartoon with charm and whimsy, Howard turned to the guys behind "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" for help in pumping it up to feature-film length. So scripters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman have fashioned for us the Grinch's backstory: Who he is. Why he hates Christmas and the Whos who celebrate it. They've also seen fit to mix in a little romance for the mean, green, shrivel-hearted one. If all their hard work feels vaguely familiar, allow me in "Grinchlike" fashion to whisper three little words — Scrooge's Christmas Carol. It seems our anti-social, anti-hero was taunted as a child for his differences, and, in the process, humiliated in front of a little girl he had a crush on. We learn all this from the investigative work done by little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). You see, she encounters the Grinch one day in the Post Office — and after he saves her life — she's intrigued by the discrepancies between what she'd always heard about the Grinch and the empirical evidence before her. If he's such a mean one, why'd he save her? Plus, our little Cindy Lou is having her own philosophical problems with the commercialism of Christmas. Why can't we all just get along? she ponders. During the first 30 minutes of this newfangled "Grinch," I'd be fibbing if I didn't admit you'll be checking your watch, fidgeting in your seat and wondering just what Howard et al were thinking. But sit tight, the second act is all Carrey, and then, thankfully, the final act kicks in with the familiar story generations of kids — and adults — have found so endearing. Although Whoville and its citizens seem to share a genetic code similar to "The Wizard of Oz's" Munchkinland, they're oddly unappealing. They're nowhere near as clever or delightful as their costumes or sets, even when a character is central to the story. Neither Christine Baranski as the grown-up object of the Grinch's unrequited affections, nor Molly Shannon and Bill Irwin as Cindy Lou's parents seem more than perfunctory stereotypes. Jim Carrey's fans, however, will not be disappointed by his trademark, over-the-top performance. He may be encased in the makeup and costuming of the legendary Rick Baker, but this Grinch is still Carrey. Limber and quick-witted, Carrey's Grinch glowers, grimaces and revels in his devilishly vile ways. While he may have tweaked, fiddled or jettisoned some of the original's songs and rhymes, Howard knew enough to retain "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch." And Carrey brings the song to life with glee. Howard also found an adorable terrier-mixed mutt named Kelly to play the Grinch's companion, Max. Although I missed Boris Karloff's narration more than anything else in this makeover, Sir Anthony Hopkins gives a credible though somewhat restrained read. Hearing the usually silent Grinch speak also takes a little getting used to, especially since Carrey has chosen to give him a voice that sounds a great deal like a curmudgeonly Sean Connery. Sadly, the key to enjoying this big-screen adaptation has more to do with how you feel about Carrey than how much you love the original. I liked this "Grinch;" I just didn't love it.


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