By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Yes, the sun’ll come out tomorrow. But will you? Not for this easy-to-knock Annie, you won’t.
Annie is a shallow and uninspired contemporary adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical comedy-drama by Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, and Thomas Meehan for the family audience that was based on a 1924 daily comic strip called “Little Orphan Annie,” by Harold Gray. It followed the adventures of an orphan named Annie, her dog Sandy, the Dickensian orphanage she lived in, and her eventual wealthy benefactor, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.
Quvenzhané Wallis, the young Oscar nominee for best actress in last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, stars as the title foster kid who was left by her parents as a baby and now lives in Harlem with mean foster mom Miss Hannigan, played by a mugging Cameron Diaz.
Because her parents promised they’d be back, Annie looks forward to that day. Meanwhile, she can hold her own on New York City’s mean streets.
Jamie Foxx plays an updated version of the Warbucks character: a smartphone tycoon, germaphobe, and mayoral candidate named Will Stacks.
After Stacks rescues Annie when she’s nearly hit by a car, she moves in with him, he becomes her temporary guardian, photo ops start springing up all over the place, and she becomes a pawn in his political campaign.
This is the third screen version, following the 1982 film from director John Huston (with Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, and Carol Burnett) and a Rob Marshall-directed 1999 telemovie.
The director, Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits, Fired Up!), generating minimal joy and heart throughout, has little if any feel for the musical form.
He also collaborated on the screenplay with Aline Brosh McKenna. It’s been updated, with social media playing a big role in the proceedings and its central parallel pointed out in the script -– in case we missed it –- by describing the Depression as “pretty much like now, but without the Internet.”
Produced by Gluck, Jay-Z, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith –- among many others –- Annie suffers from its modernization. Not only doesn’t it occupy Wall Street but, much of the time, it seems a celebration of excessive wealth and materialism. It just never stops seeming out of place, as if it’s been yanked out of an appropriate era and then plunked down where it just doesn’t belong.
The array of once-catchy songs in this ode to optimism have been more or less smothered in the shooting and editing and over-orchestrating and remixing, so “Tomorrow,” “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” “Maybe,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” “Easy Street,” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” hardly register and the three new songs are just so much filler.
Young Wallis is a natural wonder and, frankly, she acts Foxx and Diaz right off the screen. Foxx looks as if he’d rather be anywhere on this planet than here in this role in this vehicle (at least until payday), while Diaz barks out a one-note performance that grates from frame one.
We’ve never missed Carol Burnett and Albert Finney so much.
Rose Byrne’s portrayal of Grace, Stacks’ assistant, doesn’t land with much impact but is still the best outing by the performers of age, while Bobby Cannavale’s Guy, Stacks’ campaign advisor, is strident and over the top.
The time may be right for this kind of movie. But Annie never comes close to making that case. If it does anything, it chases us back to the earlier version.
So we’ll adopt 2 stars out of 4. This remake is a lot less entertaining and resonant than its predecessor, Annie way you look at it.