If there's one thing "A Series of Unfortunate Events" effectively demonstrates, it's that even with a strong cast and a big budget, one can still quite easily drop the ball in regards to developing an effective family film. Beautifully designed and with a general feel that Tim Burton would either be proud of or pissed off at for ripping him off, "Lemony" struggles to find a direction in which to flow in terms of narrative and accessiblity.
On the one hand it's too dark to appeal to youngsters, however it's also too young-skewing for teens and over. All ages though may have trouble with the very episodic feel of the movie which has various repetitive segments that could easily be interchanged. As the film goes on, and the settings keep changing, audience patience will wear through as Siberling and co. fail to build any tension or suspense as things stumble their way toward a fairly silly climax.
Nevertheless the humour is better than the ads would have you believe. The dialogue remains crisp and amusing, especially some of Jude Law's downbeat monologues, whilst Carrey's adept skill at physical comedy and disguise is used to great strength here. He does go overboard to be sure, but less than you might expect. Streep and Connelly both deliver solid work in their eccentric parts, and all three kids are excellent with both Browning and Aiken likely to have great futures after this.
Whilst at times wryly amusing, the film surprisingly jumps into darker territory with Carrey spending much of the film plotting the children's demise, several murder attempts, dead bodies and in one scene physical abuse of one of the kids. Yet, the 'villainy' as such has no teeth - no real menace, which makes this trip to the dark side feel all too safe. Even with the gags, overall there's a depressive sameness to all of this that makes it not a treat for the audience it's after.
Whilst the direction and script seem off, the rest of the production work is excellent. The expansive and twisted dark fantasy sets, the lavish costumes, the fun make-up and the Dickensian music all combine to make a lustrous looking dark fantasy even if the story doesn't live up to the quality of the rest of the film.