Less a movie than a cynical, market-dictated merger of profitable brands, the aggressively charmless How The Grinch Stole Christmas seems poised to replace Santa Claus: The Movie and Return To Oz as Hollywood’s foremost desecration of a beloved childhood icon. In a career-worst performance, Jim Carrey mugs, screams, and flails his way though his title role as the legendary Yuletide misanthrope, a nightmarish ghoul who looks like a pot-bellied, feral Muppet and talks like a speed-addled Edward G. Robinson. Director Ron Howard aims for the beautifully stylized mayhem of Frank Tashlin and Tim Burton, but he comes closer to the clamorous, headache-inducing visual overkill of Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies, as he pits Carrey against the horrifyingly ugly, rat-faced mole-people of Whoville. Seuss’ justly revered book contains only the slightest wisp of a plot, so Howard and company inject a new second act in which Carrey is disastrously named Cheermeister Of Whoville, allowing for such decidedly non-Seussian antics as a giant explosion, a sub-Robin Williams impression of a flamboyant gay hairstylist, and Carrey inviting the people of Whoville to kiss his ass. A soulless travesty of a movie, Grinch finishes desecrating Dr. Seuss’ classic text roughly half an hour in, when it’s revealed that Carrey’s misanthropy is attributable in part to a pubescent shaving accident. It then proceeds, undaunted, down the path to becoming one of the worst films of a year that’s shaping up to be artistically for Hollywood what 1929 was to Wall Street. Everything about Grinch feels horribly wrong, from Rick Baker’s inadvertently disturbing make-up to the design of Whoville (which looks like the world’s ugliest, most garish theme park), to the treacly Faith Hill song that accompanies the end credits. Given the simple, elegant, anti-materialist message of Seuss’ book, there’s cruel irony in Grinch becomes just another piece of mercenary, opportunistic Christmas product to be consumed mindlessly and forgotten instantly.