Sleepy Hollow

on November 19, 1999 by Christine James
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   When press outlets first received advance art from Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow," editors everywhere were captivated by the hauntingly romantic image of a blindfolded and bejeweled Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci) kissing a restrained-but-just-barely Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), and the photo was run lovingly large and often in magazines and newspapers nationwide to represent the film. Audiences, then, might have formed the impression that "Sleepy Hollow" is about two mesmerizingly gothic paramours whose love story unfolds against the chilling mystery of the murderous Headless Horseman. However, the film is far more akin to the spirit of Burton's offputtingly malicious black comedy "Mars Attacks" than his tenderly tragic "Edward Scissorhands."
   Preceding the entrancingly phantasmagoric title sequence, the Horseman swiftly dispatches two victims (including Martin Landau in a wordless and obviously extremely brief cameo) via decapitation; the heads are never found. A New York magistrate orders Crane, a bothersome public defender who dares to question the harsh judgments of the court, to travel to the small town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the crime. With his handmade 18th-century detective equipment, Crane is determined to apprehend the Horseman and prove him to be a flesh-and-blood mortal, not the vengeful phantom the villagers fear. But his own encounter with the homicidal hellion quickly convinces Crane of the preternatural nature of the cranium-craving criminal.
   There is some dark humor to be found in Depp's mincing Crane, who puts women and small boys in front of him in dangerous situations and, despite his scientific background, can't seem to examine a corpse without endlessly spurting himself with blood. But there's a line that Burton seems increasingly determined to cross, to ill effect. In "Mars Attacks," it was a feature-length cacophany of cartoonish killings; here, it's the cavalier dismemberment of animals and even the stalking and implied murder of a child.
   Worse than transgressions of taste or encroachments of the audience's boundaries is the simple fact that "Sleepy Hollow" is not devilishly funny enough to be a black comedy, not remotely scary enough to be an effective thriller, and too deficient in chemistry to be any kind of a romance. And the climax contains all the intrigue of a Scooby Doo reveal. As usual, Burton's greatest strength is his wonderfully eerie aesthetics and atmospherics. Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality. Running time: 105 min
Tags: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Marc Pickering and Christopher Walken. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder. A Paramount release. Thriller
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