Sweeney Todd: Sharp razor, dull tunes

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From Scott Renshaw, our film critic, and his review of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd— J.S.

Problem the first: Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd.

In the gray, grim prologue, Sweeney is returning to London on a ship with young sailor Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower). He relates the story of how a young barber named Benjamin Barker was sent to prison for 15 years by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), so Turpin could have Barker's wife. With his wild sweep of white-shocked hair and sunken eyes — Jack Sparrow's eye makeup looks almost modest by comparison — Depp embodies the grim vengeance of Barker-turned-Todd.

But when he opens his mouth to sing, he gives away his amateur status. Like many inexperienced singers trying to pull off complicated songs, he growls most of his lyrics, blunting the force of Sondheim's dark arias.

He is, however, a virtual Pavarotti compared to problem the second: Helena Bonham Carter.

Burton's real-life partner Carter plays Mrs. Lovett, the proprietor of a meat-pie shop housed below Sweeney's old apartments. As the two fall into an odd — and fairly gruesome — partnership, Carter delivers a fine physical performance. But anyone who can sit through her trilling of "The Worst Pies in London" without wincing simply doesn't grasp the insinuating splendor of Sondheim's music. Credited screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) becomes necessary to fill in the gaps — and minimize the damage — where ordinarily there would be someone in full voice.

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