by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer
“Annie” unfortunately demonstrates once again the cinematic truism that remakes of classic movies are rarely as good as the originals. Audiences familiar with the first version will not likely be happy with the changes wrought in the new one. (A grandmaternal friend of mine says she saw the old “Annie” at least five times with her now-grown daughters and rented the video for her grandchildren.) The current iteration attempts to make the familiar story of a 1930s orphan girl hip and, um, relevant to today’s kids and their ticket-buying parents. The result, alas, is mishmash.
The title character and her benefactor have now changed races and roles. Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) insists she is not an orphan because her parents are still alive, having ditched her outside an NYC Italian restaurant when she was a baby. She lives in a foster home with five other girls, all of whom despise and are despised by their keeper, Mrs. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, cast distinctly against type). Apparently self-sufficient and street savvy, Annie is nonetheless rescued from being run over by billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), the update for millionaire Daddy Warbucks.
Will has made his stacks of money schlepping cell phones and now wants to become mayor of the Big Apple. His cynical poll watching assistant, a guy named Guy (Bobby Cannavale) spots an opportunity in his boss’ accidental heroism, which is inevitably captured on someone’s cell phone camera and goes viral. Stacks dispatches his other helper, Grace (Rose Byrne), to bring the photogenic tyke to his penthouse apartment, where they can get even more photo ops to show that the rich guy has a heart of gold — despite his habit of Purelling his hands every time he comes in contact with the masses whose votes he needs.
The PR ploy seems to work, as Stacks’ ratings go up and his anxiety around Annie goes down. Director and co-screenwriter Will Gluck’s previous experience is in romcoms, though, so he and film editor Tia Nolan fall all over themselves to bring a stage musical’s energy to the screen. The frantic cutting works in the best number of the movie, “It’s a Hard Luck Life,” when the girls clean up the shabby apartment to fool a city inspector. But the play’s signature song, “Tomorrow,” suffers from the frenetic pace, an attempt to cover Wallis’ indifferent singing voice and the shoddy sound mixing, which can’t get the lip synching right.
Rated “PG,” the movie is a bit sleazy around the edges, never a good thing in a family-friendly film. After an energetic first half-hour or so, “Annie” seems to slow down, despite a helicopter chase at the end. (The good guys are aided, of course, by a legion of Twitter and Instagram users, because, hey, that’s what kids are into these days, right?) There’s a bit of totally predictable romance thrown in, and some new tunes are added to the original score without improving it.
“Annie” wants to be a Big Holiday Movie; however, I don’t see it beating out all the other contenders for people’s holiday dollars. It tries awfully hard to pump some new life into a story that didn’t need the transfusion. Like all comedies where the effort to make us laugh is too obvious, this attempt falls flat. My friend the grandmother doesn’t plan on inviting her young grandchildren to watch it. ‘Nuff said.