A review of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for excessive, relentless gore

Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

 

 

Revenge is a dish best served cold; exactly how I was left after watching Helena Bonham Carter butcher a cheeky star turn in Tim Burton’s cutthroat musical based on Steven Sondheim’s stage spectacular.

It doesn’t help that Johnny Depp could do Todd in his sleep; the dark and edgy barber with a thirst for the macabre is a glove-fit. Think “Edward Scissorhands”, “Sleepy Hollow”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, etc.

Can’t blame Burton for this gruesome misfire -- except perhaps for casting his wife as the female lead – his signature moves prevail and for the most part the look and feel are deliciously off-color.

Todd, formerly known as 19th century London nice-guy Benjamin Barker, has revenge on the brain after the sinister Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) imprisons him on false charges and steals his wife and child in a vicious emotional coup. Years later Barker returns as alter ego Todd, barber cum serial killer extraordinaire whose hell bent on destroying Turpin and recovering the affections of his daughter, now Turpin’s ward.

Joining forces with Todd’s diabolical scheme is hostess with the mostess Nellie Lovett (Bonham Carter), a trampy tavern owner renowned for her unappetizing meat pies. Ever the resourceful businesswoman Lovett turns tragedy into big business, turning a tidy profit by making mince-meat of Todd’s unfortunate victims and packing her pies full of wholesome human remains. Yummy.

While Depp and Bonham Carter fumble their way through incessant yet catchy numbers meant for those who can carry a tune the rear is brought up by some genuine young talent (Jayne Wisener as daughter Johanna, Jamie Campbell Bower as her love-struck suitor Anthony and the extraordinary Edward Sanders as ragamuffin baker’s assistant Toby) whose solid pipes only serve to exaggerate the chasm between those who can and those who cannot.

Depp’s brooding charisma makes up for the blunder but no such luck for Bonham Carter. Burton’s temperamental tones and whirling cameras match the mood but he goes overboard with a gratuitous parade of spurting slit throats and the inevitable and relentless slide from barber’s chair to oven door.

A couple musical numbers thrill; in particular the captivating refrain “Johanna” and Sanders’ sweetly tempered “Not While I’m Around”. But those fleeting pleasures weren’t enough to keep me from repeatedly checking my watch, one foot perpetually pointed towards the exit.