Alejandro Arbona / ShowBizCafe
December 21, 2007 AT 10:00 AM EST

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Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen

Script: John Logan

Director: Tim Burton

Rating: R

Grade: B

Word has it that director Tim Burton’s good movies are titled after the main character (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman, even the shorts Vincent and Frankenweenie. The bad ones are named after a location or a description of the premise (Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!). It just so happens that the same applies to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The movie is an adaptation of the classic Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler musical. Benjamin Barker, the pseudonymous Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) is a barber in 19th-century London, the kind who shaves faces and dispenses cologne. He returns to his old trade, furious and vengeful, after spending years wrongly imprisoned by a treacherous judge who conspired to seduce his wife away and take his baby daughter. Todd joins forces with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a baker of “the worst pies in London,” and the two end up launching a morbid joint venture, killing customers and turning them into meat pies for dinner.

Thanks to the concise and well-told plot of the original musical, this adaptation moves swiftly and efficiently from beat to beat, packing several surprises for those unfamiliar with the original. The songs are highly entertaining, even for a critic such as this one, who doesn’t usually care for musicals. And the stellar cast, not largely composed of professional singers but of screen actors, stands out in several numbers, with some exceptions. Bonham Carter, for one, suffers from a thin, weak voice that tends to get lost amid the music, but that doesn’t stop her from coming across as vivacious and humorous. Sacha Baron Cohen is another one who steals his scenes as a flamboyant rival barber.

The characters are pure Burton, so much so that it’s clear this story was practically tailor-made for this director to bring it to the screen. Although an excess of digital landscapes make me miss the rough, dusty, highly tactile textures of the sets of Edward Scissorhands, the production design and costumes preserve that unique and inimitable aesthetic. As for blood, let’s be clear: this movie is EXTREMELY bloody and violent. It’s so vicious that it’s a clear homage to the 1970s horror movies churned out by the British studio Hammer.

If you’re wary of a film packed to the brim with death by throat-slashing, stay away from this one. On the other hand, if the extremely macabre is to your taste, Sweeney Todd is one savory meat pie.

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