It feels strangely fitting that my last review for 2014 will be yet another remake—another hastily produced, formulaic attempt at stoking nostalgia and engaging in the familiar. This was a year that saw an unprecedented amount of sequels, reboots and constant attempts at embracing the franchise wars that have gripped the Hollywood studio systems. It’s getting ever easier to devolve into the tired, old debate that Hollywood is out of new ideas, especially after seeing something as putrid and uninspired as the new version of “Annie.”
I can almost see the pitch meeting that got this whole production underway. It was probably sometime in the early aughts after Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint Vol. 2” came out. His hit “Hard Knock Life,” (using the famous hook from the original Broadway production of “Annie”) was everywhere. The video featured some cute girls sitting on the stoop with H.O.V.A. No doubt some Sony executive saw that and thought, “Hey, ‘Annie’ is hip again.” That is probably all the forethought that was put into this 21st century version, and it shows.
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. There’s so much wrong in this movie. The acting is painfully bad, in a way I thought was impossible in modern, big-budget filmmaking. It strips away all the charm of the original in favor of a modern, social-network referencing parable that is sure to make anyone with an ounce of common sense groan loudly from their seats.
I’m reluctant to trash an actress who hasn’t even hit puberty yet. Wailing on a 10-year-old hardly feels like the sport of kings, but Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) is bad in a way that will make most decent human beings cringe. Her performance is flatter than a pancake run over by a convoy of steamrollers. Maybe she won the role in a raffle or perhaps this was some kind of Make a Wish Foundation fulfillment. I feel kind of bad. It’s not really her fault. The role requires more than she’s capable of delivering. She tries her hardest, but a smile can only get you so far—especially when you’re charged with carrying a two-hour feature film.
Almost all of the blame can be heaped on Director Will Gluck (“Easy A”), who delivered a joyless musical. It’s one of the worst ever committed to the silver screen, and I’ve seen “Xanadu.” The dance numbers feel intentionally dumbed down to accommodate stars who don’t know how to dance. Jamie Foxx slums his way through the movie. He and co-star Rose Byrne have zero chemistry. Their forced romance is awkward and horribly staged, but it’s still better than Cameron Diaz’s performance as Miss Hannigan, which is the hottest mess you’ll see in cinemas this year. I’m not sure if Diaz was being told, “act like a paint-huffing meth addict who just smelled a fart” by the director. Perhaps she wasn’t given any direction at all.
You could almost forgive all the glaring mistakes Gluck and company make in this deep-fried stank of a movie if there were any sense of fun. Uneven big-screen musical junk like “The Producers” and “Rent” were salvaged by some fun, rousing musical numbers. The songbook of “Annie” hasn’t aged well, and every attempt at modernizing it makes it seem that much more dated. This is a failed experiment with no reason for existing: a product that grew from some half-baked ideas and lazily delivered to the screen with a plodding thud.
I feel kind of bad trashing this complete misfire from our friends at Sony, who are already being dragged through the brambles with the scandal revolving around the movie “The Interview.” This must seem like salt in the wound, but it’s perfectly legitimate salt. This is a travesty of a film. There might—might! be a chance this brain-dead, big-screen adaptation will appeal to the very young, who are enamored by any movie featuring a bunch of kids singing. But when you put it next to pop-culture musical behemoths like “Frozen,” it just doesn’t hold up. “Annie” is not only the worst movie I’ve seen this year; it might be the worst movie I’ve seen this century. Hopefully, this flavorless slop is a palette cleanser for the year ahead where better movies await.
Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx
Directed by Will Gluck