Annie (United States, 2014)

December 18, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Annie Poster

Most remakes are unnecessary but Annie is a bigger offender than many. Reeking of redundancy, the film not only proves incapable of overcoming the inevitable sense of déjà vu but, despite a host of cosmetic changes, it fails to answer the question of why we should care about its existence. Despite being adequate family-friendly entertainment, Annie proves unable to present a cogent argument why it should supplant the serviceable 1982 or 1999 versions. The movie feels like a vanity production, although it's difficult to determine whose ego is being stroked by this expensive adaptation.

The biggest change (aside from the skin color of the two principals) is shifting Annie to 2014 from the Depression-era setting of the 1977 stage musical. The thinking is probably that kids today wouldn't care about Annie if it wasn't set in modern-day New York. (My argument is that kids today won't care about it regardless of where or when it's set.) Most of the names remain the same with the notable exception of Daddy Warbucks, who is now called Will Stacks (and played by Jamie Foxx). All the expected plot points are present but the details in many cases are different. It's like a familiar old house that has undergone a makeover but is still the same structure, creaky floorboards and all. Some of the new décor is decidedly garish, however: consider, for example, the lengthy car-and-helicopter chase that forms the bulk of the climax. Definitely new to this version.

Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is as she always has been - spunky and optimistic. The red hair might be gone but not the mischievous streak. Initially one of five foster children living in the cramped apartment of Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), she becomes lucky when her path crosses with that of billionaire businessman Stacks. A newbie politician hoping to unseat the incumbent as New York's mayor, Stacks is behind in the polls but when an accidental Good Samaritan act toward Annie is caught on a cell phone camera and goes viral, his number skyrocket. This leads his chief strategist, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), to recommend that Stacks foster Annie. Since no one is going to deny him custody, Annie moves into his palatial penthouse and the two soon form a bond.

The songs are a combination of Strouse/Charnin numbers from the musical (with "It's The Hard-Knock Life" and "Tomorrow" among the seven or eight) and new tunes. The older lyrics have in some cases undergone updates. For the most part, the actors are adequate singers and the musical interludes are choreographed with sufficient energy to prevent them from becoming tiresome. Annie pays homage to its history with in-jokes. The opening scene features a red-haired child named "Annie" and reflects back on the Depression and FDR's New Deal. Later we learn that Stacks is actually a bald man wearing a hairpiece.

Director Will Gluck and his writers deserve a helping of credit in one area: by focusing on the relationship between image and poll numbers, they emphasize how elections are increasingly about perception over policy. This is nothing new but it's unusual for a lightweight production to acknowledge such a deeply cynical truth. Of course, in the service of a happy ending, this is tossed away during the final few moments.

On the acting front, only Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx seem invested in their parts and the chemistry between them is unforced. Rose Byrne (as Stacks' assistant and quasi love interest, Grace) is stiff and awkward and both Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz are nails-on-the-blackboard over-the-top. If the cast underwhelms, it matches the production as a whole. In today's marketplace, musicals are difficult to sell (just ask Clint Eastwood, whose Jersey Boys was an abject failure), and something as lackluster and generic as Annie isn't likely to capture the attention of audiences when there are brighter, shinier objects to dazzle.

Annie (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:58
U.S. Release Date: 2014-12-25
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1