Two out of five stars
An updated musical that already feels dated.
Sony's terrible week is probably about to get worse because given the train wreck that is its new movie, "Annie," I can't imagine people will be flocking to theaters to catch this updated musical. I'll skip the jokes about how the hackers should have tried to get "Annie" pulled, not "The Interview," because you can't go three seconds on Twitter without a similar punchline popping up in your feed.
But yeah, "Annie's" pretty bad.
And it's bad from the start.
The opening musical number, in which our title character (played by youngest Oscar-nominee ever, Quvenzhane Wallis) tries to coax her classroom into clapping to the beat while she sings a school report, is one of those moments that just feels so forced, you're embarrassed watching it. When people say they don't like musicals because they feel it's unnatural and uncomfortable when characters break into song, they're talking about scenes like this. And it only gets better from there. And by better, I mean worse.
In this version, Annie isn't stuck in an orphanage. Instead, she lives in a pretty nice apartment in New York City with four other foster kids. They all share one big room with bunk beds, and it kind of seems like every night is a sleep-over party. Through a series of contrived events that just don't matter, Annie meets billionaire businessman Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who decides having Annie live with him would help his mayoral campaign. So the two team up.
Wallis, of whom I was a big fan in "Beasts of the Southern Wild," seems to have one gear for most of this movie: "charmingly optimistic." Nothing fazes her version of Annie, to the point where you almost want to grab her and say, "Hey kid, it's OK to be depressed. You're an orphan stuck being raised by a witch. Your life kind of sucks." Her singing is decent, though, and she and Jamie Foxx have good chemistry. I can't wait to see them together again -- just hopefully not in the sequel of this movie.
In fact, it's the middle of the movie, where Annie and Will Stacks are building their bond, that's the most enjoyable. There are some fun exchanges between the two, and a very funny satire on the "Twilight" franchise (yes, you read that right) that's so good it almost seems out of place. Bonding along with them is Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Bridesmaids), who plays Stacks' right-hand-gal, Grace, and when she, Wallis and Foxx are on screen in any combination there does tend to be a lot of charm. Another bright spot is Stephanie Kurtzuba (The Wolf of Wall Street). Here she plays an Eastern European social worker and steals every scene.
Sadly, those are the only bright spots amid 118 minutes of darkness. Early on in the film, Ms. Hannigan, played by Cameron Diaz, tells one of her foster kids, "Take it down a notch, no one's going to believe you." That's the perfect line to sum up her performance as an alcoholic, washed-up singer who takes in kids just for the government checks. Diaz is so over the top, you have to wonder if director Will Gluck was maybe on a coffee break during her scenes, or perhaps he just didn't feel comfortable telling the star to tone it down.
The acting is hardly the main problem with "Annie," though. Most of the blame has to go to the script. In a good musical, songs enter the scene organically -- here, they almost always feel crow-barred in. The tone is all over the place: sometimes it's an over-the-top farce, sometimes it's a movie of the week, and somehow, it all devolves into an action flick. Also, the updated references take a timeless story and turn it into a dated mess. Sure, the "Twilight" bit works, but a joke about 1990s dance-pop group C+C Music Factory just tries way too hard. This "Annie" is trying to be cool, and if you're trying to be cool, you're probably not.
That said, "Annie" isn't aimed at me, a single guy in his mid-30s. It's aimed at kids and their parents, and in my screening, there were plenty of those. The kids did seem to laugh in the right spots, though they never joined in singing the songs. Afterward, one of those kids was debating her movie score with her mom, deciding between a seven and an eight. So if you have to go see Annie, chances are your kids will be entertained, even if you're not.