What is going on here? No, really. What is going on?

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The unruly, incoherent "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is like an explosion of special effects and set design in search of a story.

It tries to color its backgrounds with so much gadgetry and expensive-looking busywork that it covers up the fact that very little about it makes sense. Spoiler alert: It doesn't work.   

According to its end credits, this take on the Nutcracker story is "suggested by" E.T.A. Hoffmann's short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and Marius Petipa's "The Nutcracker Ballet." It's basically a Tim Burton monstrosity run amok, minus Burton's ghoulish flare, and it resembles what happens when costume designers are given more influence over a story than screenwriters. 

Mackenzie Foy (no relation to Claire) stars as Clara, a bright young girl who keeps to herself following the death of her mother. On Christmas Eve, she wanders into the world of the Four Realms, a magical land she discovers was once ruled by her mother. There, it's up to her to restore good to the land and defeat the sweet then sour Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley, who at least has a ball hamming things up). 

The film's visuals are so overactive that it may appear there is something going on — look, a giant mouse made of mice! Over there, toy soldiers come to life! — but it's all distraction. Directors Lasse Hallström ("The Cider House Rules") and Joe Johnston (1995's "Jumanji") can't find any heart to put in the story, so "The Nutcracker" is exposed for what it is: an expensive looking cash-in on a pre-existing property, masquerading as a whimsical adventure promoting girl power and ingenuity. Don't fall for it. "The Nutcracker" is a dreadful holiday misstep. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama 

'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms'

GRADE: D+

Rated PG for some mild peril

Running time: 100 minutes

 

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