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Annie (2014)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Annie Hell"
1 stars

"Annie," the stage musical adaptation of the long-running comic strip, has, of course, gone on to become one of the biggest hits in Broadway history but when it came time to transfer it from the stage to the screen in 1982, the end result was a critical and commercial disaster, largely due to the bizarre decision to turn the directorial reins over to John Huston, a legendary filmmaker who, as it turned out, had absolutely no affinity for the genre and its trappings--essentially it was the "Jersey Boys" of its day. Because of the show's enduring popularity, though, it was almost inevitable that someone would try to film another version of it at some point and now, after years of false starts, "Annie" is back and, astonishingly enough, it is worse than ever. Despite the incredibly low bar set by the previous film, this incarnation is such a grim and joyless slog in almost every imaginable way that not only did Huston make a better "Annie" back in the day, he made a better "Annie" when he did "Victory"--at least that one had something vaguely resembling choreography going for it.

Apparently concerned that younger viewers would have no interest in watching anything set during the Depression era (though the popularity of the show would seem to suggest otherwise), the makers of "Annie" have chosen to bring the story into contemporary times and have made adjustments accordingly. This time around, Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a foster child, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a drunken slattern whose life went to pieces when she was unceremoniously fired from her job singing with C+C Music Factory just before they hit the big time (and they think that the kids wouldn't recognize the Depression. . .) and Daddy Warbucks is now Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a billionaire cell-phone magnate in the midst of a struggling campaign to be elected mayor of New York. (To be fair, switching the rich guy from being a war profiteer to a cell phone kingpin does make a certain sense.) Sandy the dog, by the way, is still a dog, though he has now been named Sandy specifically in reference to Hurricane Katrina.

After seeing an uptick in Stacks's sagging polls when a video of him saving Annie from getting pancaked by a truck goes viral, his sleazy campaign manager (Bobby Canavale) hits upon the genius idea of having him take in Annie for a few weeks in order to get some great visuals for the upcoming election. Now ensconced in the lap of luxury--fancy dresses, lavish movie premieres and all the doodads that the Sony people can dream up--Annie is living large but still pines for the parents that she believes are still out there waiting for her. At the same time, her sunny attitude begins to thaw Stacks's cold heart and even begins to push him in the direction of chief aide Grace (Rose Byrne), who has been nursing a crush on him for years. Alas, just when things seem as though they are going to work out fine, the campaign manager arbitrarily decides that Annie has to go and conspires with Hannigan to split the girl and Stacks up for good. I wouldn't dream of telling you how it all turns out except to note that whatever your expectations might be to the story going in, I bet you never suspected that it would climax with a big car chase.

"Annie" starts off on an amusing note by taking the most talked-about aspect of this iteration--the casting of an African-American actress in the role of Annie--head-on with a scene that starts with a typical Annie and then shifts to the film's real heroine delivering a highly choreographed recounting of the Depression and the New Deal. This scene works so well that I thought that there might be hope for this film after all but after building up my enthusiasm in the first five minutes, it then spends the next 113 painfully stripping said enthusiasm away. Bringing "Annie" up to date is not an inherently bad idea in theory but the film manages to constantly bungle it throughout. The cheerful innocence of the original has been replaced with a certain degree of self-aware irony (complete with a Kim Jong-Il joke for those despots scoring at home) and if ever there was a property that did not require self-awareness or irony, it is this one. The rejiggered plot is so sloppily constructed and nonsensical that even the little kids who it is primarily aimed at are going to be alternately bored and confused--I can't imagine any of them being interested by all the election intrigue or by the way that Annie largely becomes a bystander in her own story towards the end.

Director Will Gluck has made such funny comedies as "Easy A" and "Friends with Benefits" but shows so little affinity for the musical genre that he make Huston seem like Vincent Minnelli by comparison--the choreography is so uninspired and the film is so visually undistinguished that it almost makes me want to take back some of the things that I am about to say about "Into the Woods." As for the songs, the classics--"Tomorrow" and "Hard Knock Life"--still sort of work despite their unimaginative stagings but the new songs on display are forgettable at best and dreadful at worst. And in what appears to be a last-ditch effort to generate some interest in the proceedings, Gluck throws in a bunch of random celebrity cameos, featuring the likes of Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Patricia Clarkson, Michael J. Fox and Rihanna as an alien in a movie-within-the-movie, that are a.) not very funny (although the stuff with Kunis and Kutcher is mildly amusing) and b.) betrays a bizarre disinterest in the film's own heroine, especially none of these cameos really involve her at all.

"Annie" does have a really good cast for the most part but in nearly every case, they wind up being utterly wasted. Jamie Foxx is, of course, the only cast member who, between his sideline career as a singer and his appearance in "Dreamgirls," actually has any significant musical experience but he seems disinterested in the goings-on surrounding him--you never buy him for a second either as a ruthless businessman or as a potentially perfect parent for Annie. Rose Byrne, an actress I happen to like a lot, is not very good here at all--she is plainly uncomfortable with the singing and what passes for dancing and sort of fades into the woodwork during her other scenes. Likewise, Cannavale and Adewale Akinnuoye-Abaje (as Stacks's friendly limo driver) are entirely and eminently forgettable in their roles. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Cameron Diaz, whose turn as Miss Hannigan is a show-stopper in all the wrong ways--an over-the-top monstrosity that is such a gross miscalculation that it almost needs to be seen to be disbelieved. Yes, I fully realize that Miss Hannigan is supposed to be a ogre, albeit a ridiculous one (Carol Burnett's turn in the first movie was one of its few saving graces), but Diaz takes it to such gruesome extremes (the low point being her take on "Little Girls") that most moviegoers will find themselves flinching ever time she appears on screen.

The only saving grace to "Annie" is the presence of Quvenzhane Wallis in the title role, her first major performance since becoming the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee for her incredible work in the indie hit "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Like most of her co-stars, she is not a particularly adept singer but manages to somewhat make up for it with plenty of spunk and spirit. She is a natural-born charmer but not even her efforts can make up for the mess surrounding her. Loud, ungainly and possessing all of the grace and good cheer of the crash following a sugar high, "Annie" is a grisly exercise in hard-sell whimsy that will unite audiences of all ages in a sense of grim and joyless boredom from start to finish.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25967&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/19/14 11:11:50
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User Comments

1/11/15 Bob Dog Surprisingly sincere and joy inspiring! 5 stars
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  19-Dec-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 17-Mar-2015


  DVD: 17-Mar-2015

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