Jim Carrey's Popeye, the atrocious The Grinch

Nov 19, 2000 (Updated Nov 20, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:set design starts out looking pretty nice

Cons:performance, pacing, script, direction - ugliness & mean-spiritedness

Ten minutes into Ron Howard's atrocious re-telling of the beloved Dr. Seuss fable about commercialism and the Christmas spirit, it became completely unwatchable. Although the set design initially dazzles, the make-up for the meek denizens of Whoville is bizarre and unpleasant (sort of a cross between the creatures in the old Twilight Zone episode "Eye of the Beholder," and Sandra Bullock). Worse, the script is execrable and Jim Carrey's lines, apparently all improvised save for a snippet or two taken from poor Ted Geisel's source material, fall so painfully flat that no less than four couples left thirty minutes into the film. Two more after an hour.

Yet I stayed, and my poor, long-suffering wife stayed as well. When the lights came on in the theater in which we suffered together, with the exception of a handful of idiots that will gamely enjoy anything, the overriding look was "glazed" and "shocked."

If not for Verhoeven's Hollow Man, Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas would easily be the worst film of 2000. Ho ho ho.

the low down

The Grinch (Jim Carrey), a furry green monster that hates Christmas is so incensed by the Yule-loving populace of the small town of Whoville that he endeavors to steal all the presents and, he thinks, steal Christmas. But no, gentle readers, Christmas can't be stolen for it's in the heart of the individual that the true meaning of Christmas beats.

We are reminded of this in the film with a few frantic and confused shots of Who's indulging in mass capitalism, with a few cloying "awww" shots of the dog Max looking sad, with a few cloying "awww" shots of a little girl Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momson) not only looking sad but proselytizing tediously in her several times too saccharin sing-song about the importance of Christmas beyond gift-giving. Bring a hypo full of insulin, folks.

If you grew up in this culture, you probably know the story from Chuck Jones' wonderful 26 minute cartoon and, of course, from Dr. Seuss' charming and brilliant storybook. I'm warning you to take the $16.00 that you were going to spend on this monkey nugget and put it towards the recent DVD release of the cartoon (in a double-feature with Horton Hears a Who).

If this is your first glimpse of the Grinch, let me assure you that my memories of this misunderstood Scrooge did not include him putting a sprig of mistletoe over his butt and inviting the Who's to "gimme' a kiss." Charming.


Would that a few off-color remarks were the end and all of where Ron Howard's Grinch missteps, and missteps badly. Let me take one moment to share with you the funny scene - it involves the Grinch ripping off a skirt that he's wearing revealing a frilly saloon girl garter on his furry green drumstick. There you go, no reason to feed more money into this nightmare.

Jim Carrey spends the entire film (and he does get the majority of screen time) screaming unfunny things at the top of his lungs ("one person's toxic sludge is another's potpourri"), striking the dictator pose more than Qaddafi, and striking the Christ pose more than Michael Jackson. If you admired Carrey's quiet restraint in The Truman Show, The Grinch offers you a glimpse of the comic with no direction whatsoever.

The only person more annoying and ineffective than Jim Carrey without fetters is Robin Williams without fetters. Carrey is simply awful - he is obnoxious and loud (though no more obnoxious and loud than anything else in this mess) and he proclaims, during one useless scene (though no more useless than any other scene in this mess), that "the powder's b!tchin'" - charming.

Worse, The Grinch eats glass, has CGI termites swarming in his teeth, uses a switchblade to carve a roast beast, laughs in a chilling homage to Chris Farley, and delivers a line with his face buried in some ample bosoms. To exact revenge on the rival for his love (and, yes, the Grinch is gifted with a love interest in a bizarre and highly discomfiting flashback sequence), he makes the Mayor kiss his beloved dog Max's derriere.

This lovely and magical moment quickly followed by a scene in which poor abused Max (a truly noble figure in the book and the cartoon, made to be a constantly whining, thrown, and injured cipher in the film), drags his butt across the carpet.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

the flashback

I would feel remiss not to mention the singularly unsettling "little person" Josh Ryan Evans (from NBC's singularly unsettling supernatural soap "Passions") playing the eight-year-old Grinch in an extended flashback consisting entirely of cruelty and one disturbing sight gag (actually, the Grinch is first played by the animatronic baby puppet from the short-lived sitcom Dinosaurs: "not the mama"). You see, it seems as though this little Grinch has a crush and, ashamed of his facial hair, endeavors to shave it off using some truly terrifying hair clippers. David Cronenberg's gynecological constructions for Dead Ringers are only marginally more menacing than this gleaming, toothy, machinery of pain.

As mini-Grinch brings this champing machine close to his face, I flinched. I didn't flinch while screening all five films in Clive Barker's Hellraiser series, but I looked away for a moment during this heartwarming children's fable.

The pay-off is the mini-Grinch showing up at school the next day with cuts all over his face and his classmate's saying something along the lines of "what a cut up" before dissolving into peals of laughter. Charming.


If you go to see Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, you'd not only be paying for all of that, you'd be paying to sit through an extended solo by an eight-year-old girl that probably was not the best singer in her third grade choir. It's a performance only a mother could love which immediately, to be fair, makes it better than any other performance in the film.

Have I managed to forget to mention that there's a reference in here to a wife-swapping "key party?" Granted, the kids probably won't get it - but I got it, and any kind of hope I held out for being enchanted went out the window like last year's Christmas tree. Nothing like making a joke out of sanctioned adultery to take the luster off the ornaments.

It's not an accident that my lovely wife and I topped off our evening by rushing home and watching A Christmas Story. You could think of it as that refreshing lime wedge after the bitter sting of the tequila shot of Ron Howard & screenwriter Jeffery Wright's scatalogical maundering.

You could think of it that way, but it's more accurate to think of it as "an exorcism."

Keep an eye peeled for the "Who-Nude" strip club. I, myself, was breathlessly awaiting (and actually mildly surprised to note the absence of) the Whoville red light district and the inevitable "Who-ors." Charming.

set design

The set design for Whoville is initially dazzling. It's not long, however, before the sloppiness of the computer graphics that animate some of the people of Whoville becomes glaringly apparent - it only gets worse. What I was reminded of most by Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas was Robert Altman's Popeye - both are visually arresting for a few minutes before they become visually confused, stopping finally in the land of "visually offensive.'

The only thing louder than the noise blaring out of the cow-sized THX speakers are the confusion of images sloughing off the biggest screen in the cineplex. If there were ever any doubt that Ron Howard has no idea what he's doing behind the camera, let them rest with exhibit A: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and exhibit B: Apollo 13, Backdraft, Far and Away, Gung Ho, EdTV, Parenthood, Night Shift).

In the hands of a Tim Burton or a Carl Dreyer, the elaborate set design and costuming would serve the mood of the film rather than overwhelm the story - there isn't a mood established here unless "side-splitting headache inducing" is a mood. It's not enchanting, folks, it's ugly.


Before I belatedly end this brisket ripping, consider how Ron Howard and company have fatally changed the essential beauty of Dr. Seuss' tale. The denizens of Whoville are now venal capitalists that are materialistic, unpleasant, amoral, and, as exhibited clearly in the flashback sequence, mean-spirited. The Grinch is no longer a loner jealous of the Who's happiness and unjustifiably unhappy at not being asked to be included, the Grinch is now an equally mean-spirited boor and a monster that is justified in separating himself from the Who's - and just happens to be the hero for stealing the presents.

After all, at the end, he has taught the Who's how to be better people by his theft.

Dr. Seuss believed that the Who's were better people to begin with, and it's their love that opens the Grinch's heart - not the Grinch's evil that makes the evil Who's come to terms with their fallen natures. If you think that this is a small perversion of the story, you're mistaken.

A better title for this travesty is "How the Grinch Forced Small-Minded People to Love One Another by Taking Their Things." Is that how you remembered the book? Maybe it's time for a re-read.


Tell me true: would you otherwise pay $16.00 for you and your date to see a film starring Molly Shannon (Superstar and, of course, "Saturday Night Live"), Christine Baranski (television's "Cybill" who, in one of the finer jokes of the film, doesn't need any make-up to look like a deformed Who), and Jim Carrey in a giant green suit (not bawdy enough for adults, too bawdy for kids, improvising badly for almost two hours) - if not for its tenuous connection to a beloved Dr. Seuss book?

Better yet, would you fork over your hard-earned green to watch a film written by the man (Jeffrey Price) that wrote the only film that I walked out of in 1999; Wild Wild West?

Consider especially a scene where the Grinch, when he's won the girl and been accepted by the populace of Whoville, does a mean-spirited victory dance at the expense of a humiliated Mayor. I've learned something new about Christmas tonight, gentle readers, kick 'em while they're down. That's some fine writing, there, Mr. Price.

The worst thing about this abomination is that despite its frantic, confused editing and fecklessly in absentia direction, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is face-clawing-ly boring. The plot is excessively disjointed, being just one loud and odious set piece after another. It is, in fact, the shambling simulacrum, in structure and desperation, to Wild Wild West.

At least, though, Wild Wild West had the decency of only trodding on a beloved cult schmaltz television series from the late sixties - Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas trods on one of the most magical and poignant Christmas stories of the last century.

And it does so with giant, clumsy, ugly, hob-nailed boots that are, frankly, anything but charming.

don't just take my word for it, take these people's word for it:
Stephen Holden of the NY Times


Roger Ebert calls it "Dank, eerie, disturbing"

Kevin Maynard of ABC's Mr. Showbiz gives it "9/100" (the lowest rated film of the year)

Film Threat's Chris Gore gives it one star out of five

Recommend this product?

Read all comments (37)

Share this product review with your friends   
Share This!