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Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Bostonian Tinies

Edward Gorey would sum it up this way: "K is for Klaus who slipped down a drain. V is for Violet squashed under a train. S is for Sunny embedded in ice. L is for Lemony who's not very nice."

Although not quite as creative as J.K. Rowling, macabre as Charles Addams, or unsettling as Gorey, San Francisco writer Daniel Handler has achieved considerable success with his series of (13 planned) novelettes for children about three orphaned youngsters -- you could call them "The Bostonian Tinies" -- who continually fall into the evil clutches of their nemesis uncle, Count Olaf.

Now the first three volumes of the series ("The Bad Beginning," "The Reptile Room," and "The Wide Window") have been combined into the agreeably maverick script that powers Brad Silberling's star-filled feature, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Jude Law lends his soft, impeccable diction to the voice of Lemony Snicket, a mysterious narrator who's at pains to inform his audience about the terrible fate in store for the three Baudelaire children who were orphaned when their parents perished in a blaze that destroyed their home.

Violet (Emily Browning), 14, is an ingenious inventor; Klaus (Liam Aiken), 12, is an unstoppable bookworm; and infant Sunny loves to bite things. Upon being driven from their ruined home, they end up at the imposing but dilapidated home of their never-known-before uncle, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a mysterious and inexplicably mean old man who endures the children's presence only so that he may someday steal their considerable inheritance. Carrey imbues the sketchy character of Lemony in the books (at least the first one) with dimensionality and cunning befitting a megalomaniac. Yet Carrey does not overshadow the supporting actors.

Along for the ride are characters from Books 2 and 3: Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a carefree herpetologist, and Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a woman stricken by many phobias -- both of whom take turns as guardians of the itinerant threesome. They serve as entertaining diversions from Count Olaf, as well as opportunities for Carrey to reappear as yet another preposterous nut bent on ruining the children's happiness. As the crusty old seaman Captain Sham, he looks right at home in any haunted house; but as the herpetologist-in-training Stefano, he virtually disappears beneath the disguise.

The ongoing punch line in Lemony Snicket is that no one ever listens to the hapless children until things get way out of hand. The well-meaning adults never seem to notice Olaf's evil nature. So the children must fend for themselves in increasingly resourceful ways. This plot device becomes tiresome, although it does tend to reinforce the way that children view the adult world -- as a largely indecipherable one to them.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5