OUT in Theaters: Annie Should Be Left in the Orphanage

Let me preface all of this with stating that I was not even remotely looking forward to seeing Sony’s updated reversioning of Annie to begin with … it may have something to do with flashbacks to my sophomore musical production of it in high school (yes, I was in a high school musical and turned out gay!) Primarily though, it’s because I have never really cared for the tale of the permanently positive ginger with the heart of gold who warms the heart of billionaire Daddy Warbucks. I never found it remotely charming, and don’t think any version has ever been worthwhile, apart from the original film showcasing two of the greatest gingers that ever lived: Carol Burnette and Bernadette Peters (even though the latter was a blonde in the original Annie, but I digress).

In the opening moments of the new Annie, a smiling redheaded girl who didn’t take her Ritalin finishes a speech for class and then breaks into a brief tap dance … everyone in the class groans. Then we meet the other Annie in the class (titular star Quvenzhané Wallis who made me cry my eyes out in Beasts of the Southern Wild). This Annie sasses her teacher before turning her speech into a STOMP-esque lesson on FDR’s The New Deal. I guess this is supposed to show us that this is not our momma’s Annie.

Cameron Diaz as Ms. Hannigan in Annie.

Cameron Diaz as Ms. Hannigan in Annie.

From there, Annie runs home, not to an orphanage but to her foster home run by Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz trying way too hard and giving us an over-acted version of her character in Bad Teacher), who was once a member of C+C Music Factory (nice touch) but has since fallen on hard times. Ms. Hannigan is portrayed as a not-very-PG-friendly alcoholic pill popper who is referenced by Annie and her foster sisters throughout the movie, which is admittedly funny at times but inappropriate for kids nevertheless. Annie was abandoned by her parents as a baby and she clings to the dream of finding them one day, making many a trip to Family Services in an attempt to uncover their identity.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New York, cell phone mogul Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained – I guess Warbucks sounded too ’70s?) is making a run for mayor with his trusty VP Grace (the usually wonderful Rose Byrne, Bridesmaids) by his side. After a public relations nightmare (think projectile vomit in the face of a homeless man), Stacks mopes around the city before our little Annie literally runs into him and he saves her from the path of an oncoming vehicle. Unaware of her near-death experience, the oblivious brat runs along home, but don’t worry, someone caught the whole thing on their iPhone (see, we’re modern!).

Before you can say “viral video,” the selfless act becomes the part of every news cycle and smarmy mayoral campaign manager guy Guy (Bobby Cannavale, Chef and no, they didn’t bother to give him an actual name) talks Stacks into taking Annie in … and this is about 45 minutes into our movie. Over the course of the film’s agonizing two hours of fake smiles and muppet-like choreography, Annie learns the joys of the good life, the pains of rejection, and *spoiler alert* the true meaning of family … yes I just threw up a little, too. And this is all spattered with enough auto-tune to fill Britney Spears’ next five albums.

Rose Byrne can sing. Jamie Foxx Can Sing. Bobby Cannavale can not only sing but he has a Tony nomination. Why in the world did the creative team feel the need to auto tune the entirety of the film, children and adults, alike? I get that this is a modern retelling, but every time a character opens their mouth, they shouldn’t have a voice possessed by the ghost of T-Pain. “I Think I’m Going to Like it Here” is particularly painful, as Grace gives Annie a tour of her new high-end digs (remember, we’re modern!) and they bounce on the furniture like a couple of manic twinks whose song just came on at the club, flailing and speak-singing their way into the hearts of … no one. Director and co-writer Will Gluck (the delightful Easy A) obviously hates the source material as much as I do and should never have been given this project in the first place. It bares little of his trademark wit, no musicality whatsoever, and enough mild racism to make you give the screen some Nene Leakes side-eye (Annie can’t swim, Stacks talks through a trip to the movies, and Annie’s twitter account ends in a “z” instead of an “s” – REALLY!?!). I guess Annie isn’t as modern as it thinks it is.

This soulless remake went through development hell (it once upon a time was set to star Will Smith and daughter Willow, with a Sandra Bullock Ms. Hannigan) and it shows on the screen, with too many half-assed ideas strung together with increasingly crappier, overproduced songs. Sony hasn’t been having a good winter, with Annie and other films leaking online, private company emails being hacked and released to the public, and pulling The Interview from release after North Korea’s terroristic threats against any theater that screened the film. If only the terrorists could have spared us from Annie too…

Grade: D-

Now Playing at: UA Riverview, Rave University City, The Pearl, UA Main Street, etc.