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Review: Magic stolen from fairy-tale update 'Ever After'

August 10, 1998
Web posted at: 7:53 p.m. EDT (2353 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Kurt Vonnegut once sagely pointed out that the story of Christ and the story of Cinderella, when diagrammed, are basically the same yarn. Think about it. The main character starts out at the bottom, then rises to an unforeseen amount of praise and honor. Then, much to our horror, the bottom drops out, big time. Never fear, though, because if you thought the previous high was something, wait until you see the magical comeback. Play "Gonna Fly Now" over this, by the way, and you also get "Rocky." (Don't play it over the Christ story, though, because then you get picketed.)

So now we have "Ever After," Andy Tennant's more "realistic" retelling of Cinderella's adventures, and I don't know what's to be gained by removing the magic from the proceedings. If Cinderella is the nominal savior of girlish romantic longing, I want morphing pumpkins and dancing horses, and a beautiful dress with blinding strobe lights shooting out of it.

OK, maybe I don't want that, but I'm absolutely certain that I don't want what Tennant's ended up with. The rather brownish color scheme doesn't help matters, but Drew Barrymore, as the Cinder Girl herself, is one of the main drawbacks.

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Gee-whiz Barrymore

I can't figure out how I feel about Drew Barrymore these days. I've always found myself pulling for her and her cutie-pie charm, but it's starting to get more and more difficult. She's survived a hell of a lot in real-life terms (very much to her credit), and certainly looks no worse for wear. But her almost disturbingly sunny talk show persona often smacks of a lingering 12-step program.

When she's on "The Late Show" (with Dave openly drooling over her) she's so consistently in awe of simply having gotten up in the morning, you can't help but start to feel like she's being very, very selective about what she reads in the paper.

By now, this overbearing gee-whizness has started to affect her role selection. First, there was the freeze-dried mushiness of "The Wedding Singer." Now, with "Ever After," she's a veritable poster girl for the goodness of helping people and the oogly-googly, inspiring wonderfulness of this great adventure that we call life; I've seen this so many times before, I kept expecting her to be interrupted by Paul Shaffer playing "Louie Louie."

This all might have worked if the fairy tale's magic had been left in place, but the damp smell of the castle is too much in evidence here to properly gel with Barrymore's unabashed Drew-ness.

In a brief prologue, we see 8-year-old Danielle (later to be nicknamed "Cinderella") meeting her new stepmother (Anjelica Huston, campier than an entire Boy Scout troop) and her two new stepsisters, who aren't ugly like you expect because this is an update.

It isn't long before Danielle's unfortunate father croaks and tumbles off his steed, so now she's stuck spending the rest of her life with a trio of pampered women who don't like to get their hands dirty and expect their new family member to perform all the drudge-work around the castle by herself. Then we jump ahead several years, and look at that! It's Drew Barrymore!

The mistreatment has continued unabated, with Danielle waiting hand and foot on her stepmom and sisters, the snotty, but knowingly sexy Marguerite (Megan Dodds), and the more amiable Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey.) Danielle, of course, loves to dream and read (she actually quotes Sir Thomas More's "Utopia") and flirt with David Letterman, so we immediately know that she's a lot more fun than the rest of the family.

Small kingdom

One day, just like in the movies, Danielle "meets cute" with the local prince (Dougray Scott, handsome guy) by nailing him in the head with a chucked apple. You better get used to that kind of thing, too, because the two accidentally stumble across each other so many times during the film, you'd think the kingdom was the size of a regulation softball field.

This time around, the prince is an uneasy young man who wants nothing more than to break away from his unloving father. He doesn't want to inherit the kingdom; he doesn't know what he wants, actually, but we do. He wants sunny, smiley, bubbly Danielle. Didn't he read the script?

Huston's character is a conniver who wants her real daughter to marry the prince -- even though he's started kinda likin' the wistful Danielle -- so she steals Danielle's dead mother's ball gown and shoes and gives them to Marguerite.

Danielle really looks like she doesn't stand a chance, but then, instead of receiving help from a fairy godmother, she falls under the guidance of, you guessed it, Leonardo da Vinci! Patrick Godfrey plays da Vinci, and (if you ask me, and, technically speaking, you are) the only reason this character is in the story is because, well, why not?

Then Cinderella goes to the ball (the set for which is quite beautiful), and all the main characters end up in a circle, guns trained on each other in a Mexican standoff. Not really. Revisionism does have its limits, you know.

"Ever After" contains one moment of profanity, a decent sword fight, and nice clothes, although the latter can also be found in many of our better closets. This is supposed to be set in France, by the way, but you wouldn't know it from Barrymore's truly unfortunate attempt at a British accent. Don't ask me. Rated PG-13. 121 minutes.

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