2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments but is overall bad)
In today’s world, remakes, or “reimaginings” as they are now called, are inevitable. The new Hollywood mindset seems to be that “if it made money 20 or 30 years ago, it will make money now. Just “update” it a little, spend lots of money on ads, and it will sell tickets”. I am both for and against remakes, as they can do two things: Improve the original (This summer’s Godzilla, for example) or spit on the memory of a great classic (This year’s Robocop).
I like remakes that bring something new to the table, or if I don’t like the original, I’m very open to a reinterpretation of it. That was the case with Annie, the Broadway classic about a little orphan girl who is adopted by a wealthy man, thus escaping the clutches of the evil woman who runs her foster home. I have seen the Annie from 1982 at various ages throughout my life, hoping that I would somehow get what everybody likes about it. Unfortunately, I didn’t, so when the trailers for this remake came out, I was extremely excited. Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, and Cameron Diaz were in major roles, and director of the film was Will Gluck, who brought us the fun and chirpy teen comedy Easy A, which I love. Everything was in place for this to be a good remake. So what happened?
The plot has some modifications, so I’ll go over it. Cell phone magnate Will Stacks (Foxx, whose talent is totally underused both as an actor and a singer/dancer) is running for mayor of New York. Unfortunately, his poll numbers are dismal, but he has the help of his perky assistant Grace (Byrne) to keep him going. He also has the conniving Guy (Bobby Cannavale) who is so easy to spot as a secondary antagonist that he should be working for Dr. Evil. Also, Stacks isn’t much of a people person, so much so that he spits out food from the homeless shelter (one of the films’ funny scenes). What a great politician he’ll make.
Stacks’ luck changes when he saves Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) from an oncoming truck. It turns out that Annie is a foster kid living in Harlem under the comedically awful care of Miss Hannigan (Diaz overacting so high that the heavens can hear her). At the advice of his assistants, Stacks decides to spend more time with Annie to help increase his numbers, an affair that ends in a horrible ending number on a New York pier with helicopters, cops, and Hannigan shenanigans.
Many things are changed from the original story, and I like some of them. Setting it in modern times begins well, but becomes extremely underwhelming at the climax. Diaz seems to be having loads of fun hamming it up, and Byrne provides her usual sarcastic wit, but Foxx looks absolutely embarrassed, especially in the ending scene. I’ve seen Jamie Foxx give it his all before: Django Unchained, Collateral, and even The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which I really liked) show Foxx giving everything he’s got, and he’s just plain lazy here. Foxx does maintain his likability through this, so I’ll give him credit for that.
The musical numbers, while first bearable, become more endless than in Across the Universe (a musical romantic drama that had at least 20 more than this). The timeless songs (“Hard Knock Life,” “Sun will come Out Tomorrow”, etc.) are decent-sounding, but the choreography is boring and waaaay too spontaneous. The later numbers (one of which has been shockingly nominated for best original song at the Golden Globes) is head-bangingly annoying and sentimental, and it wasn’t even in the original. There is a quote from The Birdcage from 1996 that sums up the new songs: “Subtract, don’t add”. The screenwriters omitted some songs to go along with the period, but then added some that are extremely out of place. One with Guy and Hannigan is particularly horrid, and could have been edited out with nothing being lost. The dubbing (making sure the lyrics match with the actor’s mouths) is also jarringly off, leading one to believe that nobody looked at it in editing before they wrapped up. The editing and camerawork are also quite bad in the musical numbers, classic or not. John Huston was criticized for his directing of the version from 1982, and I think he was a bad choice. However, Will Gluck proves to be an extremely bad choice for this film, serving as both director and co-screenwriter. The dramatic moments are cloying, and I can not emphasize enough how badly the musical numbers are shot.
As for character chemistry, the actors work fine together. Wallis, Foxx, and Byrne are good, as are Wallis and Diaz. Diaz and Byrne don’t have but a minute of time together, and it feels awkward, as if the actresses are meeting each other for the first time, even though the characters are. Character development is passable, with Hannigan having more than usual, and one embarrassingly squeezed in scene with Stacks and Annie in the middle of the film. Annie is positive throughout, which is at first cute, but becomes a little overbearing as the film wears on, and on, and on.
The film has funny moments though. I laughed at most of the jokes, but I had turned off my critical mind for a majority of the film. It was only after the film had ended that I realized how bad it was.
I won’t harp on “edgy” content as I usually do here, but parents should know that there is some profanity and a few grown-up jokes, two of which should not be there at all. Guy says he helped Kim Jong Ill get into power, a line that should have been deleted due to the recent Sony hack and Sony releasing this film. I laughed, but jokes about dictators should not be in kids’ films. Hurricane Sandy is also made light of, something that the persons involved aren’t ready for yet, and neither was I.
The sad thing is that this film is a missed opportunity. This wasn’t going to be a classic, but it could have been good. The people involved are capable of making good movies; it’s just too bad that they all had to be in this one together.
Rated PG for Some Mild Language and Rude Humor