Annie (2014)

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“There she is, our own little orphan Annie.”

With the latest take on the iconic orphan, Annie manages to squander a wealth of onscreen talent and deliver a flat story full of bombastic behavior. Musicals, at least the good ones, seamlessly shift from dialogue to song without skipping a beat. That’s because the music is integral to the story. It helps take you from point A to point B and so on. Annie miserably fails in that regard. This might not be bad to watch on TV, but that’s because you could miss 30 minutes and come right back without missing a thing. Somewhere along the way a character says, “People love Musicals!” After seeing this, I’d beg to differ.

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A ridiculously phony opening introduces us to Annie, this time played by Quvenzhané Wallis. She lives with a handful of other girls under the guardianship of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). The foster parent is a failed singer who now collects money weekly for taking care of the kids. She drinks quite a bit and can certainly be mean, but she’s never malicious or outright unkind. That’s my biggest complaint. Yes, these kids have a hard life. Any foster living situation would be incredibly difficult. But this depiction, while certainly trying, is never horrible. I’ve seen kids from insanely wealthy families who have it worse, who get less attention and love. Annie never digs deep enough to gain our sympathy.

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Everything’s fairly hunky-dory. Annie clings to a note from her parents and goes to the same restaurant every Friday night. It’s the last place she knows they were. All the while New York City is in the thick of a Mayoral race. The mega-rich Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) owns Stacks Mobile, the country’s leading communications company. He also wants to be mayor although we never really know why…maybe he’s just power hungry. Stacks is a workaholic, which has meaning, and he’s also a germaphob, which is pointless. Why does the rich guy have to carry hand sanitizer around and keep Windex in his private car? The story is poorly thought out and executed even worse.

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Assisting Stacks throughout are Grace (Rose Byrne) and Guy (Bobby Cannavale). Grace keeps his life in order while Guy does anything he can to get Stacks elected. After Stacks saves Annie from becoming roadkill, Guy sees their golden opportunity. She’ll move in for a while, take some pictures, help humanize the icy man’s image. Some of it works, but the atrocious script never hits the right beats. It meanders around, fumbling every opportunity to hook the audience. Director Will Gluck throws the bait and doesn’t let us come close to getting a bite. Sometimes you can tell that a movie suffers from poor direction mostly because of the acting and the story’s pace. This is one of the instances.

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Byrne and Foxx are the lone bright spots in the film, even if that’s for only half of the story. Diaz overacts and Cannavale’s character is the meanest of the bunch. And then there’s Wallis. It’s hard to be critical of a young actress because she hasn’t matured or done enough work to really know what she’s doing. But with a Best Actress nomination already under her belt, (undeserved for the profoundly overrated Beast of the Southern Wild) you expect a certain level of quality. I hope time is her friend, because as of now she’s less than stellar. Gluck brightly shines the light and focus on gentrification in our culture today. Yet he undercuts the attempted commentary on the social discrepancies with soft punches and failed urbanized renditions of the classics we all know (thanks to producer Jay-Z I’m sure.) Musicals live or die off of a simple formula: merited drama and memorable songs. Even if Annie’s sun does come out tomorrow, it’s sure to be a solar eclipse.

“Lucks for suckers.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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