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Edward Scissorhands just doesn't make the cut

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

Directed by Tim Burton.

Starring Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder,

and Dianne Wiest.

At the Cheri and Chestnut Hill Cinemas.

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By BILL JACKSON

[gfE]DWARD SCISSORHANDS is the latest film to emerge from the mind of director Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice). It is a nobly envisioned fairy tale with a hint of tragedy. Its performances and visual style are excellent, but the effort is ultimately a bit too silly to succeed.

Edward (Johnny Depp) is the creation of a Frankenstein-like inventor played with quiet relish by Vincent Price. The inventor built Edward step-by-step, but just as he was about to replace Edward's crude scissor appendages with hands, he died. Edward was left alone with scissorhands in a Gothic mansion at the top of a hill.

Years later, in the suburban town below, Peg the Avon lady (Dianne Wiest) has almost given up on selling her wares when she decides to try the old mansion on the hill. She finds Edward alone and brings him back to town. Edward becomes a sensation and gains popularity in suburbia for his unique ability to shape bushes and ice blocks into sculptures with his scissorhands.

Next the townspeople line up to have Edward trim their dogs' hair, and ultimately Edward becomes the most popular women's hairstylist in town. Edward also tries to win the attention of Peg's daughter (Winona Ryder) and to fit into society by starting a business.

Depp, playing Edward under heavy makeup and, of course, the scissorhands, does an admirable job with a difficult role. He manages to play it reasonably straight but not overdo it. He is also hindered by the fact that Edward rarely speaks and only uses phrases, never complete sentences. He pulls it off, however, and overcomes the ludicrousness of the role to create sympathy for the hero.

Ryder does a yeoman's job as the daughter, but she's caught in an absolutely stereotypical role here. Her turn-around from the snooty teenager to the caring friend is as convincing as it can be. Wiest plays the suburban mom/wife/Avon lady with a beautiful mocking touch and appears to have a great time with the role (such as attempting to mask Edward's scissor-scarred face with her Avon products).

Strangely enough for a movie of such a bizarre nature, this film affords Vincent Price a chance to break from the mildew-commercial rut he's been in for the last decade. Price, who only appears in Edward's flashbacks, plays it straight as Edward's caring inventor, and his approach works marvelously. The rest of the cast, including Alan Arkin and Anthony Michael Hall, seem to be having fun with their parts.

Burton has scored yet again with his visuals. His trademark use of miniatures is in full force with the long shots of the town and mansion. His camerawork is smooth and flowing, and the film has a wonderful sense of humor. He gives each frame a distinct visual look, and he has a wonderful time with the settings.

Burton's suburban world in Edward Scissorhands is a plasticized combination of primary and pastel solids. Each house in the town is a carbon copy of the others. All the houses rest on well-groomed, oval shaped streets and are framed by perfect green lawns. In contrast, the mansion is a dusty Gothic nightmare reminiscent of the climactic cathedral scene in Batman.

Burton has also rendered the film impossible to pin down in time. The characters wear hair and clothing styles ranging from early 1950s to early '80s. The women are all housewives with time to sit around and gossip all day, and the men all work and come home to make somber, fatherly speeches to their children. It's not played as an insult, however, but as a quiet tribute to a 20th-century American culture which only exists in our minds, and perhaps in TV-land.

Burton, who shares story credit with screenwriter Caroline Thompson, has played Frankenstein himself by creating this picture from the ashes of other films. The idea of framing the film as if it were being told as a bedtime story to a little girl was most recently seen in The Princess Bride, and similar themes have been explored in films as diverse as Frankenstein and Mask. The screenplay manages to avoid most of the obvious clich'es and, most importantly, it knows when to not say anything and let the actors do the acting.

The film is the most fun near the beginning, when Burton takes aim at suburbia with a searing eye for detail -- the ceramic bird baths, the sex-starved housewives, and the back-slapping husbands at barbecues. The film moves at a good speed -- Burton has learned much about pacing a film since the dizzying conclusion of Beetlejuice -- but as it approaches the end, it becomes slightly more somber and attempts to set Edward up as a tragic hero.

This odd combination almost works, but Burton lacks the subtle cinematic touch required to pull it off. In short, Edward Scissorhands is a fun ride, but the ending may leave you feeling manipulated, and the silliness of the whole idea ultimately undermines any feelings you might have for the characters.