Picks and Pans Review: Edward Scissorhands

updated 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/17/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Johnny Depp, Dianne Wiest

The title character is a youthful-looking, sweet-natured Frankensteinian creation who at the end of his wrists has a set of metal blades instead of hands—as if he were the son of Freddy Krueger and Snow White.

But that's just one of the eccentricities of this movie of studied capriciousness.

Part of it is misunderstood youth stuff, with Depp as the not-surprisingly reclusive Edward, whose inventor, Vincent Price, dies before he can be properly finished.

Part of it is a vicious parody of life in suburbia. Kathy (Clean and Sober) Baker leads a horde of overweight, overmade-up and overgossipy housewives who first adopt, then persecute Depp after he is taken in by the supernaive Wiest and her family.

Part of it is stream-of-consciousness folderol. All the cars and houses in Wiest's neighborhood are solid pastel colors, for instance. It snows at odd moments. Depp, whose hobby is using his unique skills to trim shrubbery in the shape of animals, goes into haircutting at the behest of Baker, whose real interest is in seducing him.

Meanwhile, Depp is falling in love with Wiest's daughter, Winona Ryder, whose archetypal-bully boyfriend, Anthony Michael (Weird Science) Hall, has clearly been watching tapes of Thomas Wilson in the Back to the Future series. And Alan Arkin, as Wiest's hard-to-impress husband, sits around philosophizing in oblique ways: "You can't buy the necessities of life with cookies. You can't buy a car with cookies."

Written by newcomer Caroline Thompson from an idea she and director Tim Burton came up with, the movie has some funny moments, many provided by Arkin and Wiest, who as an Avon lady is a model of misplaced determination. Much of the film's humor, though, exploits cruelty without satirizing it. Depp, suffering not only from outrageous misfortune but the symbolic and physical slices taken out of him by his own hands, is the butt of some nasty jokes. His crush on Ryder is depressing, not poignant. This is a kind of fairy tale where the moral is, "Hey, we can't figure out what's going on either, so roll with the punches and keep the whetstone handy." (PG-13)

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