Ronnie Scheib, MSN, December 14, 2014
While there are several possible good reasons to remake the Depression-set musical “Annie” in 2014, none of them seem to have informed Will Gluck’s overblown yet undernourished treatment. More of a facelift than an update, the pic dusts off some old songs, adds a few desultory stabs at new ones, and stuffs the frame with shiny upscale gadgets that scream “modern.” Featuring a multiracial all-star cast with few pretensions to dancing expertise, the film replaces choreography with metronomic editing, while one-note overstatement drowns out character development. Even without the Sony hacking scandal that caused it to leak online early, “Annie” would seem headed for a lackluster Christmas bow.
The film begins promisingly with a pre-credits sequence wherein Gluck acknowledges the obvious parallel between the Great Depression and the currently widening rich/poor divide: A schoolroom show-and-tell produces a standard-issue, red-haired “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”). Wallis’ Annie proceeds to conduct the class in an interactive historical performance piece celebrating FDR’s New Deal, no less. But this hint of modern-day hard times, it turns out, is evoked only to be treated as a quaint conceit.
In Gluck’s 21st-century version, Annie lives with other girls not in an orphanage but in a Harlem foster home run 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 an actual denizen of Miss Hannigan’s apartment.
Racing through the streets for her dog, Sandy (here named after the hurricane, in an utterly 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 savvily parlays into room and board in exchange for future photo ops.