The idea of a post-feminist version of Alice in Wonderland, as the newly rebranded and prolific SyFy channel recently produced, is pretty much a non-starter for two reasons. First, and most obvious, because it is high time that the archaic idea that the mere act of slapping a butt kicking female (in this case she's a martial arts instructor) into an old fable automatically equates to modernization goes on hiatus. Second, there is also the rather unfortunate fact that if you look close enough at Lewis Carroll's original tale the lessons of feminism are already there.
Still, that female demographic remains highly desirable for producer types so here they have taken Alice and equipped her with some serious commitment phobia, a sprinkling of daddy issues, and placed her at the heart of a miniseries that is serviceable but fails to thrill. Caterina Scorsone injects a lot of spunk and energy into a role that was undoubtedly a challenge but it is not quite enough to lift this rendition above the rest of the pedestrian made for TV films out there.
After a full-on marriage press from her boyfriend Jack (Philip Winchester) that she flatly rejects, and a run in with a group of street hoods who take a particular interest in her engagement ring, Alice falls through the looking glass into a Wonderland that doubles as critique of our own world and points a stern finger at us for just how enslaved we are by the pharmaceutical industry. Here humans from our world are lured into Wonderland so that they can be drained of their emotions which, in turn, are sold to the masses as miracle drugs.
The look of the film is about what you would expect – high gloss/low budget – with the green screens used are a tad more impressive than typically seen on SyFy. When used properly they give the viewer the distinct feeling that they are experiencing somebody else's bad acid trip. Also Harry Dean Stanton, while not a special effect per se, deserves praise for both his performance and the bizarre, thrift store purchased wardrobe choices gifted him.
In charge of this mess is the Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates) who is none to pleased when Alice finds some wiggle room in her evil scheme and escapes the whole emotion draining process, and sets off on a journey to return to her own world. Bates seems to be relishing the opportunity to play bad in an inconsequential role and fits the part perfectly. The Queen does not take kindly to Alice and sicks her hitman, The White Rabbit, who happens to be a resurrected thug with a giant plaster rabbit head, on her.
The plot functions well enough but is just stretched too thin. Even if you fast forward through the commercials it clocks in at an intimidating three hours. To make matters worse writer director Nick Willing is addicted to old-fashioned cliff-hangers leading into every commercial break, including one that literally has Alice hanging off a cliff. The dialogue here is also outdated and represents what some might say is the opposite of the Mumblecore movement; rigid, choppy and feeling as though it was written by a computer program. The characters say what they need to say to advance the story, with nobody ever interrupting, and that is it.
If you do feel the need to watch this series, which will doubtless be repeated, and you could do a lot worse, then it is recommended that you read Carroll's story first, or at the bare minimum check out Disney's 1951 classic as a refresher course. But we would urge you to skip this one altogether as it is really nothing more than a lot of bells and whistles being banged very loudly in an attempt to distract away from just how generic it is. If only Willing had thrown his back into the project a little bit more there could have been something here. Instead he attacked the idea with something less than a killer instinct and ultimately found himself hawking simple platitudes, like "Don't blindly whore yourself out to the powers that be." It's a nice lesson for the kids and people who have never thought for themselves before, but everybody else will be bored by the ideas and images presented here.