When a stage musical as beloved as Annie hits the big screen and falls ignominiously on its fat one, you might ask: WTF? For starters, updating the Depression-era tale to NYC 2014 is a really dumb idea. The strain of the shoehorning is evident in every scene. Nothing wrong with making the new Annie black and proud, except that Quvenzhané Wallis, 11, plays her like a windup toy without an ounce of the charm and inner strength she showed in her Oscar-nominated role in 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Forget tomorrow, the sun always comes out for this little orphan Annie. All the songs of poverty and longing in the score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin are chirped with relentless cheer and given a rap beat by Sia. (I am not making this up. The singing in this movie made my ears hurt.) We even see Annie in school putting a hip-hop spin on FDR, the president who figured so prominently in the hit Broadway show, which became a misbegotten 1982 film directed by no less than John Huston. That botch job looks like Singin’ in the Rain compared to the Auto-tuned warbling and stub-toed choreography on view in this flabby fiasco.
Director Will Gluck substitutes the comic flair he brought to Easy A with the flop sweat that comes when a filmmaker knows he’s in over his head and drowning. You can almost see him behind the camera shouting, “More stupid! More shrill!” Everyone complies, especially Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan, the trashy, child-hating caretaker at Annie’s foster home in Harlem. Diaz overacts the role to the point of hysteria. It’s a relief to see Jamie Foxx show up as Will Stacks, the cell-phone tycoon and mayoral candidate who takes Annie in and lets her see how the one-percent lives. It’s not that Foxx gives a good performance, it’s more that he doesn’t shout his lines and italicize every emotion. Foxx can also sing, for real, something you can’t say for the usually wonderful Rose Bryne as Will’s assistant and Bobby Canavale as his campaign manager. The Sony hackers, the so-called Guardians of Peace, have leaked the new Annie online so everyone can have free access. It’s their cruelest trick to date.