Movie critics are feeling more tricked than treated by director Will Gluck's contemporary update of "Annie," which stars Jamie Foxx as a New York City billionaire who takes in a foster kid (Quvenzhane Wallis, of "Beasts of the Southern Wild") to advance his mayoral campaign. Ironically, a film that hinges on a cynical, calculated ploy is being called out as just that.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey wrote, "Gluck's glam, grim re-imagining of the Depression-era musical about the hard-hearted rich man and the little girl who melts him is truly depressing." She added, "Cynicism lurks around every corner, hides behind nearly every smile and overtakes the story. Though some of Broadway's 'Annie' remains ... very little about the new version feels good."
On top of disliking the film's materialism, Sharkey groused that "even the musical numbers feel flat, especially the new ones that seem tossed in for no reason other than to make the Billboard pop charts," and that "with the exception of Foxx, no one in the cast is much of a singer."
USA Today's Claudia Puig agreed, writing, "The retooled Broadway classic has been superficially updated, but not at all improved." Though Wallis is "adorably plucky" and has "appealing chemistry" with Foxx, "the rest of 'Annie' is banal, shallow and markedly cynical," she said.
Part of the problem, Puig said, is that "in recasting Annie as a political pawn, the unabashedly sentimental original has been replaced with a more cynical and materialistic reboot in a major tonal gaffe." Not helping matters is that "the acting is one-note, and the singing, save for Wallis and Foxx, adds only a couple more."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr said the new "Annie" starts promisingly enough, but "the unforced cleverness of the opening scenes gives way to lazy plotting, awkwardly staged musical numbers, and car chases. By the end, the movie resembles just another formulaic, family-friendly piece of product, one the kids will enjoy and you'll endure as it goes in the DVD player for the 40th time."
Burr added that Wallis "has presence, but it's the untrained presence of a natural," and as "the silliness piles up around her, Wallis's gifts recede from view." Also not good: "Not enough people here can sing. Foxx can, in a soulful if distractingly high tenor, and Wallis can -- enough. But [Cameron] Diaz and [Rose] Byrne have insecure voices that sound like they've been heavily auto-tuned, and as for [Bobby] Cannavale ... no. Just no."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott echoed Burr in writing that "Wallis is a born movie star, with charisma to burn and a rare ability to magnetize an audience's attention. … [I]f anything, her ability to charm has only increased [since 'Beasts']. Unfortunately, it isn't enough."
Wallis "works hard to bring this reboot to life," Scott said, and so do Foxx, Byrne, Diaz and Cannavale. "But the cast would have been better served by a middle school production overseen by a creatively frustrated, inappropriately ambitious drama teacher than by this hacky, borderline-incompetent production."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips called "Annie" a "wobbly, unsatisfying new update." He continued: "I don't care about fidelity to the original, but I do care that the new 'Annie' mistakes dithering for choreography and cynicism for wised-up charm. ... The overall vibe of this folly is curdled and utterly blase; it's a 118-minute foregone conclusion, finesse-free and perilously low on the simple performance pleasures we look for in any musical, of any period. I did enjoy Wallis and Byrne together, though."
Not every critic has panned "Annie," however. NPR's Linda Holmes, for one, wrote, "If you love the original musical, know that this is not that. The music has been largely transformed into sweetened, highly produced modern radio pop, which I personally find enormously less pleasurable than the original songs. ... Despite any reservations about the music, it is a charming, lovely little movie."
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