Although the film's pantomime-style goofiness can be somewhat refreshing at times (well, one occasion), its lifeless and often deafening musical numbers are more likely to make you want to rip off your own ears in protest.
The curse of the endless remake has become something of a relentless in-joke within modern Hollywood in recent years. It feels almost too easy a target, with everyone from comedians to politicians taking aim at tinseltown’s basic lack of originality and pure obsession with rehashing the same basic stories and franchises over and over again. The latest in this long line of well-loved classics to get the 21st-century treatment just so happens to be Little Orphan Annie, in a contemporary adaptation of the famed comic-strip, ‘80s musical and broadway show produced by none other than Will Smith and Jay-Z. No, that wasn’t a mis-print. You can probably see where this is going.
Sticking with the title of its original, Annie follows a scrappy foster-kid named (you guessed it) Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) on a seemingly endless quest to find the parents who abandoned her some years before. However, when she’s suddenly saved from a near-fatal car accident by millionaire businessman and mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), Annie’s life takes a drastically different turn as she’s welcomed into Stacks’s home and given everything she always dreamed of. But is this simply an act of general kindness by Stacks or instead a thinly-veiled plot to achieve more votes in his election? Over the course of 118 excruciating minutes, resourceful street-kid Annie discovers the answer to this question and many (many) more, and all through the medium of song. What fun.
In case the sarcasm of that last statement hasn’t quite translated well enough: Annie is by no means a good film. Surprisingly enough however, this isn’t really the fault of its stars. Quvenzhane Wallis, fresh off the success of her Oscar-nominated performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild, delivers an Annie for a new-generation with enough energy and charisma to be somewhat likeable. Jamie Foxx may phone in a somewhat goofy take on the emotionless business mogul, but he and Rose Byrne both seem to be having a great deal of fun with their overly-hammy roles, whilst Cameron Diaz’s spiteful Miss Hannigan does quite often border on pantomime but is still just about watchable. There’s even a decent amount (well, enough to count on one hand but still) of fairly ‘clever’ jokes poking fun at the film’s status as a remake. But then the singing starts, and any sense of praise flies promptly straight out of the metaphorical window.
It seems almost ludicrous to suggest that Annie, one of the most recognisable and well-loved musicals of the past thirty years, would actually be better off without its spontaneous singing, but with Will Gluck’s 2014 remake, this is very much the case. The drama is corny and predictable, but to a young audience by no means is it offensive; the singing on the other hand is quite the opposite. Just as you start to believe that Annie might be at the very least bearable, its stars suddenly break into the most soulless and apathetic musical numbers this side of a school talent show. Gluck’s energy vanishes almost entirely as his actors mindlessly bark lyrics at each other with no real sense of emotion or vigor – they just stand (or in one frankly painful helicopter-bound sequence, sit) around, relentlessly swaying back and forth like some sort of rhythmically inept chain-gang. Gone are the expansive dance numbers and toe-tappingly catchy melodies, replaced with nothing but cold, callous hatred of the musical form. Hyperboles aside, ear-plugs are an absolute must.
Whereas Will Gluck’s 21st-century Annie isn’t quite the total train-wreck it could well have been – producer Will Smith was originally only on-board so that he could use the film as some sort of deluded star-vehicle for his daughter Willow – it certainly doesn’t come recommended either. Its largely talented cast will look to set this one aside as a thoughtless bit of fun, whilst Gluck himself will more likely be looking to spend his massive paycheck on some sort of intense sedative to mask the memory that he had anything to do with it in the first place.
Annie (2014), directed by Will Gluck, is released in UK by Sony Pictures, Certificate PG.