The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

A young flimflammer (Heath Ledger) finds work hawking cheesy CGI psychedelia for a vagabond performance troupe,presided over by an immortal magician (Christopher Plummer) who owes his 16-year-old daughter (Lily Cole) to the devil (Tom Waits). It’s another weird, wild, fantastical fable from director Terry Gilliam (co-writing with Charles McKeown), and, yes, another poignant misfire. The problem is not that the leading man died during production (the movie finds a clever-enough way for Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law to sub in for Ledger as needed). It’s that Gilliam’s paean to the imagination seems to lack imagination. He’s covered this same ground before, but without so clumsily undermining his own very real affinity for fringy artistes. There are fine performances, particularly from Andrew Garfield and Verne Troyer in supporting roles as fellow troupers, but they’re buried under Gilliam’s rococo dithering. “You can’t stop stories being told,” someone says; it’s supposed to remind us of inspiration, not tedium.

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