Sleepy Hollow

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Sleepy Hollow

In a career that's ranged from the manchild-on-the-road film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure through the deadpan UFO-invasion/disaster-movie spoof Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton has never made an uninteresting film, a trend continued, albeit with severe qualifications, with Sleepy Hollow. Adapting Washington Irving's classic short story "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow," Burton recasts Ichabod Crane (as embodied by Johnny Depp) as a sensitive, almost effeminate big-city detective who, as the 18th century draws to a close, travels to the New York village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a bizarre series of decapitation murders. Once there, he finds a town terrorized by a spectral headless horseman said to be the spirit of a sadistic British loyalist (Christopher Walken) who terrorized the region during the American Revolution. A disciple of the Age Of Reason, Depp immediately dismisses the supernatural talk as nonsense and sets about finding the true source of the crime with the help of a boy sidekick (Marc Pickering) and an enchanting young townswoman (Christina Ricci). For its first hour or so, Burton's film seems on track to be his best yet. Not only does Depp once again serve as the quintessential Burton hero, delivering an odd, funny, intricately mannered performance perfectly suited to the film, but the sharp script by Andrew Kevin Walker and (reportedly) an uncredited Tom Stoppard beautifully pits his faith in rationality against Sleepy Hollow's equally strong belief in the dangerously inexplicable beast lurking just outside the bounds of civilization. Matched with Burton's strong visual style—here heavily inspired by the oozing, eerie, melodramatic films of England's Hammer studio—it serves as a bloody valentine to horror films' ability to address the biggest philosophical issues around. But then things go wrong. As the movie progresses and the plot takes over, Sleepy Hollow overdoses on both action and exposition. As a shadowy bogeyman, the headless horseman remains a frightening creation, but as Depp's adversary in a series of battle scenes, he looks more silly than frightening. It doesn't help that the overextended finale takes forever to arrive at an inevitable conclusion. Burton still has yet to make an uninteresting film, but he's never made one less interesting than the second half of Sleepy Hollow, which is all the more disheartening because of what's come before it.