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'Big Eyes' tells kooky story behind the Keane paintings

Tim Burton directs Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in "Big Eyes," the story of the art and fraud behind the so-called Keane paintings.

TIM BURTON would seem ideal to tackle the kooky tale of art fraud told in "Big Eyes," which echoes "Ed Wood" and the grotesque aesthetic of Burton's animation.

It's the story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a huckster whose paintings of bulbous-eyed children - commercially popular during the '50s and '60s - were not his paintings at all.

They were actually created by his deferential and put-upon wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), buffaloed by Walter's bullying ego and bluster, and by sexist attitudes that made it all too possible for men like Walter to operate. It was easy for Walter to keep his wife in check, easy for people to believe his claims of authorship, to discount the idea that his wife was the talent in the family.

Burton has the right eye for the pop magnetism of the Keane paintings and for the period kitsch, and Adams' unique brand of fragile spunk is right for the role of Margaret.

Waltz, for his part, has already earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work as Walter, and that's a stretch, even for the Globes.

Here, asked to command the film for long stretches, to strut and fret and bellow, his glib Euro-charm wears thin. Waltz, two-time Oscar winner in supporting roles, is exposed by the movie's two-hour running time.

His unconvincing performance nearly kills the movie. It's not conceivable, as played by Waltz, that Walter could have fooled anyone for any length of time.

Let alone a purportedly cynical journalist like Danny Huston, whose character functions as Walter's enabler and publicist (also the story's come-and-go narrator, needed to make sense of a jumbled narrative).

"Big Eyes" is also in many ways the story of a marriage, another aspect of the movie that doesn't jell. Burton chooses to pitch it as a simple bully and victim, but we sense that there must have been more to it than that.

And yet, there is a current at work here that keeps pulling at you, a thread that Burton might have worked harder to tease out, something about art and ownership and commerce.

Walter is a born salesman and BS artist, but there's one question the fast-talking Walter cannot answer about the paintings, and it keeps coming up.

"Where do you get your ideas?"

It so happens that this is the same question, essentially, Taylor Swift has posed to the Internet purveyors of music.

One can look at the Spotifys of the world - for all of their self-inflating claims about serving artists - as the Walter Keanes of today. They are the means by which art gets replicated and commercialized, and they are ones who benefit from this commerce.

Out of all fairness and proportion, say the Taylors and Margarets of the world.