2 stars out of 4
Maybe it’s the cheery soundtrack or that iconic red dress. Or maybe it’s just “Maybe.”
But bet your bottom dollar that girls of all ages have a special connection with the movie-musical about an orphaned girl and the man who makes her dreams come true. The 2014 remake of 1982’s Annie, originally based on the classic Broadway musical, fails to honor that special connection. Co-producers Will Smith and Jay Z shook it up and turned it into a slick, out-of-tune miss that’s desperately aching to be hip.
Gone is the Depression-era Annie with an appearance from the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. In comes Twitter-era Annie and an appearance from… Rihanna?! Yup, we’re in 2014 now, and our little girl (Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis) is living in a Harlem foster home, waiting for her parents to come fetch her. Running the joint is floozy Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who has a tragic backstory herself: She used to be a backup singer for C & C Music Factory. Things that make you go hmmm… indeed.
One sunny day, Annie is walking on the street when smooth-talking cell-phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) saves her from being hit by a truck. (Annoying Annie doesn’t even thank him before she runs off.) After the clip of the accident goes viral, Will’s right-hand man (Bobby Cannavale) advises his client to let Annie move in to his amazing penthouse apartment. Annie needs a home, and, besides, it’s good PR for Will’s mayoral campaign.
At first, Annie is wise to Will’s agenda and snaps at him during the photo opps. And Will would rather banter with his beautiful assistant Grace (Rose Byrne). The two soon begin to bond, of course. Especially when Will takes Annie on a helicopter tour of NYC and then invites her foster-kid pals to a red-carpet movie premiere.
A little singing and dancing works wonders for the pair, too. But this is where the reboot errs in the most cringe-worthy of ways. The favorites have held up for decades, and yet all of them, save for the still-dazzling “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” are given forgettable new melodies and lyrics. Few parents will recognize Wallis and Byrne’s auto-tuned rendition of “I Think I’m Going to Like it Here” — and fewer kids will be able to hum it on the way home, Frozen-style. Diaz and Cannavale’s clumsy, off-key duet of “Easy Street” in a lounge is even more of a face-palmer. And because the filmmakers are striving for a cool quotient — or maybe just feel the need to acknowledge the awfulness — some of the performances are openly mocked. (Near the end of the film, for instance, someone snipes that Will’s political aspirations might be kaput if he’s going to continue to break out into song). The result is a lack of shamelessly big production number moments.
It’s not like Hugh Jackman is belting out these babies, either. Fact is that Diaz, Foxx, Byrne, and even the winsome Wallis have such average pipes that none of them would make it past the blind auditions on The Voice. (Diaz is a talented comedienne, but lest we forget that her musical chops served as a punchline in My Best Friend’s Wedding.) And though Grammy nominated Sia helped composed the new material and pops up in a cameo, she might want to erase this from her IMDB credits.
Look, the 1982 film has its flaws — the vaguely racist Punjab character and Annie’s scary near-death experience on train tracks among them. But it did boast a wholesome, timeless charm. Those qualities have been stripped away here and replaced with peculiar pop culture references (will 8-year-olds really understand Baba Booey, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Arsenio Hall Show gags?) and superfluous plots twists (Annie…. can’t…. read!). By the time Wallis and Foxx launch into the tap-dancing finale, kids might be too restless from that two-hour running time to smile. And keep in mind that you’re never fully dressed without one.
But hey, at least the dog is still cute.
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