Alice -- TV Review

Alice is a popular gal. Lewis Carroll might have dreamed her up more than 150 years ago, but she keeps tumbling out of the same imaginative hole year after year: Next year will bring Tim Burton's version to the big screen, and several key members behind Syfy's new two-night miniseries "Alice" also were behind the star-studded 1999 rethink for NBC.

Still, Syfy's model has a hard time gaining traction. Is "Alice" fantasy? Thriller? Action? Camp? The answer: Yes. That and more.

One night, judo instructor Alice (nonblond Caterina Scorsone) pursues the kidnappers of her boyfriend (Philip Winchester, in a spot-on Julian Sands impersonation) through a mirror, landing in a politically tumultuous Wonderland. The plot briefly goes "Wizard of Oz" -- creator-writer-director Nick Willing re-imagined that tale as 2007's "Tin Man" for the same network -- as Alice wears purloined accessories (here, a ring) that the evil leader (Queen of Hearts Kathy Bates, sporting a flowing muumuu and a wavering accent) needs to, well, be evil.

Alice's journey winds her through a maze of winking references to Carroll's books -- a Jabberwock constructed from classic illustrations; the genuinely creepy Drs. Dum and Dee. Hatter turns into a love interest, and Matt Frewer's ancient White Knight gives John Cleese a run for his money as a truly silly person.

Alas, that's about as anarchic as it gets. There's plenty of fantasy (flying mechanical flamingos) and horror (a roomful of eyes), but there's also too much running around without sweating and lines like "spin another roulette wheel and it'll be your last."

What ultimately sinks "Alice" is that it is too normal. Carroll's nonsense, anarchy and druggy weirdness always turned the tale into a fevered dream. Here, Alice disappears instead into a tired missing-father subplot. Not that she, or the mini, has to capture Carroll's brand of insanity, but without it, what's left are semi-fancy special effects and sets borrowed from "Sleeper."

"All mimsy were the borogoves," Carroll wrote. "Instant gratification is a very complex business," Willing writes. One doesn't need an oversized mirror to figure which is worth a second look.

Airdate: 9-11 p.m., Dec. 6-7 (Syfy)
Production: Reunion Pictures, Studio Eight
Cast: Caterina Scorsone, Kathy Bates, Colm Meaney, Harry Dean Stanton, Philip Winchester, Andrew-Lee Potts, Matt Frewer, Tim Curry, Timothy Webber, Zak Santiago, Eugene Lipinski, Alex Diakun, Alessandro Juliani, Eileen Barrett, Tom Heaton, Brock Johnson
Executive producers: Matthew O'Connor, Lisa Richardson, Jamie Brown, Robert Halmi Sr.
Creator-writer-director: Nick Willing
Producer: Michael O'Connor
Director of photography: John Joffin
Production designer: Michael Joy
Costume designer: Angus Strathie
Casting: Stuart Aikins, Emma Style
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