Dir: Ron Howard. US. 2000.

Prod co: Imagine Entertainment. US dist: Universal Pictures. Int'l dist: UIP. Executive producer: Todd Hallowell. Prod: Brian Grazer. Scr: Jeffrey Price, Peter S Seaman, from the book by Dr Seuss. DoP: Don Peterman. Prod des: Michael Corenblith. Eds: Daniel P Hanley, Michael J. Hill, Mike Hill. Mus: James Horner. Main cast: Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon, Taylor Momsen, Anthony Hopkins (narrator).

Director Ron Howard should thank heaven for Jim Carrey who saves this massive holiday production from total charmlessness. As self-imposed exile The Grinch, living in a mountain high above the fantastical town of Whoville, a heavily made-up Carrey is unmistakable, engaging and hilarious, and kicks life into Howard's otherwise turgid narrative.

Bringing the Dr Seuss storybook to the screen was always going to be a hard task especially since the book is a beloved staple of children's culture in the US. Howard's answer was evidently to throw money at the gaudy recreation of Whoville without paying much attention to the characters or injecting fresh ideas to the tale. The clumsy first half-hour shows us Whoville and the Whos without any sense of magic - just a bunch of actors in heavy makeup on a costly film set.

Thankfully when the Grinch becomes the centre of attention, the film becomes more involving. Carrey eats up the screen as always, stealing Christmas away from the Whos with malevolent relish while still secretly craving the acceptance and love of his fellows.

For domestic audiences, despite its dreariness, The Grinch is a slamdunk. Universal has been building awareness of its $150m holiday tentpole for months and its opening next weekend should be huge. Overseas, where Dr Seuss and The Grinch are less entrenched in popular culture, its assured success is more questionable. Carrey is no guarantee of a hit these days and families will be offered attractive competition from 102 Dalmatians, Dinosaur and Rugrats In Paris. That said, Universal has made special efforts to raise the characters' profile to international media and the sheer glitzy scale of the film should comfortably break through initial cultural barriers.

Tiny tot Taylor Momsen is cute as can be as little Cindy Lou Who, the girl who gives The Grinch a second chance, although talented comic performers such as Baranski and Shannon do very little in their parts as Whos. Meanwhile James Horner's now customarily bombastic score comes off as a poor imitation of Danny Elfman.