'Annie' remake just doesn't sing.
The film begins promisingly with a pre-credits sequence wherein Gluck acknowledges the obvious parallel between the Great Depression and the current widening rich/poor divide: A schoolroom showand-tell produces a standard-issue, redhaired "Annie A," only to replace her with an afro'd "Annie B" (Quvenzhane Wallis, the Academy Award-nominated waif from "Beasts of the Southern Wild").
This updated Annie lives with other girls not in an orphanage but in a Harlem foster home administered by bitter, alcoholic Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), lamenting her failed career as a backup singer. Poverty, in this squeaky-clean Gotham, relies entirely on sterile set decoration; a rat under a transparent plastic bowl looks more like an artifact than a denizen of Miss Hannigan's apartment.
Racing through the streets for her dog, Sandy (here named after the hurricane, in a superfluous example of contemporization), Annie careens into the film's reincarnation of Daddy Warbucks, aka Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a cell-phone billionaire running for mayor, who absentmindedly saves her from an oncoming car. When a video of the rescue goes viral, Stacks' opportunistic campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) arranges a photo session with the adorable moppet, which Annie sawily parlays into room and board in exchange for future photo ops.
Wallis conveys the energy and perkiness of her character convincingly and charmingly, but lacks even a hint of the desperation that lies behind the belted-out infinite deferral of "Tomorrow." Indeed, the entire film lacks any sense of poverty beyond the simple absence of luxury. Unlike the New York of Sidney Lumet's similarly location-transplanted "The Wiz," Gluck's Gotham might as well be Toronto, with Stacks' private helicopter swooping among the shiny glass skyscrapers as yet another bonus of the high life.
The acting tends toward over-the-top. Foxx, the only performer with extensive singing experience onscreen, wisely opts for understatement, but Diaz's dipsomaniac rants on unchecked, her falling-down-drunk numbers as unchoreographed as her would-be comic bits are poorly directed. Only David Zayas' turn as Miss Hannigan's eternally ignored but defiantly working-class suitor brings a believable if simplistic sense of class division.
Director: Will Cluck
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis
CREDITS: A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of an Overbrook Entertainment, Marcy Media Films, Olive Bridge Entertainment production. produced by James Lassiter, Will Cluck, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Shawn "Jay Z" Carter, Laurence "Jay" Brown, Tyran Smith. directed by Will Cluck. Screenplay, Cluck, Aline Brosh McKenna, BASED ON THE STAGE play by Thomas Meehan, MUSIC BY Charles Strouse, LYRICS BY Martin Charmin, AND ON THE COMIC STRIP "Little Orphan Annie." camera (color, widescreen), Michael Crady. reviewed at AMC 25, New York, Dec. 11, 2014. MPAA RATING: PC. RUNNING TIME: 118 MIN. CAST Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis. Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz, David Zaya, Amanda Troya, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher