CINEMA RELEASE: ANNIE
Release date: 18th December 2014
Director: Will Gluck
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz
Classification: PG (Mild Themes)
Review by Peter Gray
With all the remakes and reboots that Hollywood throw about nowadays, it seems rather surprising that it’s taken this long for ‘Annie’ to receive the updated treatment. The last big screen incarnation of little orphan Annie was in 1982, itself an adaption from the award-winning Broadway musical, and, rather oddly, the 2014 revision feels peculiarly small in its scope and has little extra to offer. With the original source material being set against the great depression, one would imagine that the financial crisis in today’s climate would make a suitable fit in revamping the story to make it somewhat relevant. Sadly no, today’s ‘Annie’ appears to be nothing more than a hopeful family cash-grab for the holidays with an updated soundtrack and mixed cast to help appeal to the masses.
The story itself is cookie-cut to the core with the titular character presented here as a street-smart 10-year-old foster child (Quvenzhane Wallis) who, every Friday night, waits outside a local restaurant with the dream of being reunited with her parents, her reasoning stemming from the note they left with her as a baby, a dream that is yet to be fulfilled. Under the thumb of the drunken Miss Hannigan (a wildly miscast Cameron Diaz), Annie lives an uneventful existence until she runs into, quite literally, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a billionaire mobile phone mogul currently running for city Mayor. Despite his deep disinterest in the voting public, and the general public for that matter, Stacks sees a grand opportunity to sway voters with his caring guardian routine and, with the aid of his personal assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), hatches a plan to home her and keep her at bay for the duration of the campaign. Obviously Stacks’ heart will be warmed by the little tyke and his fatherly instincts will kick in, something his adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale) wishes to avoid.
Even if you haven’t seen any of the former tellings of this story, it’s painfully obvious where it’s heading, and where it’s exactly heading to is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of structure and ingredients. Director Will Gluck (‘Easy A’, ‘Friends With Benefits’) is a competent director, but there’s something slightly unpolished about the film that makes it feel like its lacking the quality of a cinema release. The soundtrack is safe, mainly due to the majority of the tunes being lifted from the original, although classic numbers like ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘It’s The Hard Knock Life’ don’t quite have that oomph underneath them they feel like they should, but new number ‘The City’s Yours’ feels at home amongst the playlist thanks in large part to Foxx’s silky vocals; the man could sing the phone book and it would sound good. In addition to his musical abilities, Foxx delivers an acceptable performance, bringing just the right amount of heart to proceedings for us to care. Byrne, as his amorous assistant, is perfectly sweet, and Cannavale (also delivering surprisingly good vocals) fits as the slimy political adviser. The less said about Diaz the better, a real shame given her proven strength as a comedic performer, but here the scene-chewing that Carol Burnett so effortlessly perfected in the original film comes off as nothing more than unstructured and amateur.
As for Annie herself, Wallis does a fine job but after her ever-so-effective performance in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, you can’t help but feel let down. It’s clear all she’s been asked to do here is be cute and turn on the sass, and in that respect she succeeds, but there are so many moments where it feels like she should be able to shine but, save for one piece (the Sia-penned ballad ‘Opportunity), Wallis just performs them with little creative direction. With the holiday season fast approaching, and a truckload of film releases set to inundate cineplexes the country over, ‘Annie’ is likely to get lost in the shuffle, and given how mediocre it is, it doesn’t stand much of a fighting chance amongst other titles aimed at the same demographic; I’m sure a Disney musical (‘Into The Woods’) being released next month won’t help matters either.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on ‘Annie’, after all I did produce a series of audible chuckles throughout, the soundtrack is ridiculously catchy (perhaps to the point of irritation), and I have to hand it to the filmmakers for rounding up an impressive number of names to fill a series of rather bizarre cameo spots (the movie within the movie ‘Moonquake Lake’ is a prime example) but, overall, it’s more of an audience-specific fluffer of a film than anything that demands to be seen.
My rating: 2/5