From the left, Armie Hammer and Julia Roberts star in...

From the left, Armie Hammer and Julia Roberts star in "Mirror Mirror," a movie based on Snow White and the Brothers Grimm tale, directed by Tarsem Singh and released in theaters by Relativity Media on Mar. 30, 2012. Credit: Relativity Media

"Mirror Mirror" marks a historical moment in cinema: Julia Roberts' debut as a villain. After nearly 25 years of mostly playing heart-of-gold types -- be they a pizza waitress, a prostitute or a crusading lawyer -- Roberts becomes the Evil Queen in this snarky version of the Snow White tale and lays down the gauntlet in an opening voice-over: "This is my story, not hers."

If only! Roberts threatens to steal this movie, and someone should have let her. She clearly relishes the change of pace, playing the queen as a chirpy, malevolent matriarch straight out of a reality show -- "The Real Housewives of Ye Olde Fiefdom," perhaps. But as this muddled movie stabs around desperately for the right comedic tone, it loses track of its best asset.

In fact, it squanders nearly every member of its fine cast, including the appealing Lily Collins ("Abduction") as 18-year-old Snow White; Armie Hammer ("J. Edgar"), poking fun at his airbrushed good looks as Prince Alcott; and Nathan Lane, Broadwaying it up as Brighton, the queen's hapless henchman. Even the Seven Dwarfs, reimagined as hard-drinking bandits, are played by charismatic actors like Jordan Prentice ("In Bruges") and Martin Klebba (the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films).

So what's the problem? Director Tarsem Singh ("Immortals") magically saps the life out of every performance, but in fairness, he's stuck with a script that twists old material in ways it has already been twisted. Characters lapse into modern-speak ("This queen radiates crazy!") and Snow does some feminist sword-swinging, but that's a far cry from the inspired satire of the 1987 classic "The Princess Bride" or even last year's passably clever "Puss in Boots."

That's too bad, because "Mirror Mirror" could have been a shining moment for Roberts. Instead, this movie reflects poorly on everyone.

PLOT A comedic take on the Snow White tale. RATING PG (some crude humor)

CAST Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer.

LENGTH 1:46.

PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE Roberts plays her first villain role with gusto, but she's sadly wasted in this muddled, uninspired comedy.

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