Sleepy Hollow

Halfway through Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow,” a character is impaled and then dragged to his doom by the headless horseman. Towards the end of “Sleepy Hollow,” the films hero, Ichabod Crane, finds himself being dragged by a carriage during a fight with the horseman.

The rest of “Sleepy Hollow” is, shall I dare say it, a drag!

sleepy hollowMurky and belabored, “Sleepy Hollow” is style over substance. Not once does the film become more than stylish picture postcard images. It’s like one of those old flip book movies. Sure, it looks cool, but when you’re done, they’re just lifeless images.

That is the problem with “Sleepy Hollow.” The film looks great, and that is to be expected from a Tim Burton film. What is unexpected is the films lack of heart and soul. It is easy to dismiss the film because there is nothing to connect us with the characters. They are introduced and dispatched with such frequency that they become nothing more than faceless victims.

Aside from the production design, everything else is a waste of time and effort. Until now, Burton has never made a boring film. Even at their most mundane, Burton’s films were filled with enough eccentric characters and situations to sustain them.

The eccentric characters in “Sleepy Hollow” are major miscalculations and soon wear thin. It doesn’t help that they’re trapped inside an insidious Andrew Kevin Walker screenplay that goes nowhere fast.

Walker has turned Washington Irving’s classic tale of horror and revenge into a detective mystery, but after the first half-hour it is easy to detect that there is no mystery here.

Johnny Depp returns to the Burton fold (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood”) as Crane, here a New York forensics expert sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate several strange deaths involving decapitation. The film is set in 1799, making Crane an eighteenth century “Quincy.”

We should be so lucky. Instead, Depp’s Crane is a Milquetoast novice who passes out every time something remotely scary crosses his path. Since there is nothing remotely scary in “Sleepy Hollow,” you wonder what his problem is. Crane’s feinting becomes a running joke in the movie. It’s not funny the first time. It becomes repetitious after that.

There is a lot of repetition in “Sleepy Hollow.” Walker’s screenplay is nothing more than a series of set-ups for the headless horseman to make his entrance and decapitate someone. That leaves the remaining characters little to do but sit around and wait for the next attack. Since all of the characters are thinly sketched, you really don’t care if they make it through the night.

Walker, who wrote the tricky screenplays for “Seven” and “The Game,” loses his way here. His attempts at creating a gothic detective thriller are lost when he plays the trump card less than halfway through the film. Once we understand what we’re dealing with, all mystery and suspense are tossed out with the bath water.

Not that there was much to begin with. Burton seems more concerned with how the film looks than how it plays. He never invests much in the characters, and in return, the actors return the favor.

Depp delivers a one-note performance as Crane. Depp is so lifeless he could have been the headless horseman. Deep and Burton have always been so good to each other. You wonder if they were just too tired to make a difference.

Christina Ricci is completely wasted as the film’s heroine, hidden behind a frightful blonde wig and enough pale make-up to make Marilyn Manson weep. Ricci is supposed to emerge as the love interest, but there is absolutely no chemistry between her and Depp. To be honest, there is no chemistry between any of the characters. They are nothing more than human props that occasionally get in the way of Burton’s vision.

Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s exquisite cinematography and Rick Heinrichs’ production design, that vision is solid. They have created a time and place that appears to have been ripped right out of Irving’s book. Attention to detail is amazing, while the films Grand Guignol tone (lots of severed heads and blood) benefits from Danny Elfman’s creepy score and Chris Lebenzon’s skillful editing.

You just wish the writer and director had something more to offer the cast. They look great in Colleen Atwood’s period costumes, but this isn’t a fashion show. So much talent and opportunity is wasted by Burton. Great actors like Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson and Jeffrey Jones wander aimlessly, waiting for the headless horseman to end their misery.

It is sad to realize that with a little more thought and attention, “Sleepy Hollow” could have been a great, gothic thriller. For ages Irving’s headless horseman has evoked genuine chills. “Sleepy Hollow” evokes chills all right. The kind of chills you get when you realize you could have spent your hard earned money on the new James Bond film.

Laughable dialogue and performances combine with a silly script and lackluster direction to make this film extremely “Hollow.”



Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones in a film directed by Tim Burton. Rated R. 100 Minutes.


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