The creators of the depressing, bling-happy redux of the beloved musical Annie make their unsavory intentions known in the very first scene: A chirpy little red-haired girl who is a doppelganger for Annies past delivers an earnest class report while fellow students roll their eyes. Apparently, in big, bad 2014, cheerfulness has no currency. Cut to our new Annie, played sincerely—if a bit stiffly—by former Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, who won our hearts with her wide-eyed naturalism in 2012?s Beasts of the Southern Wild. She gets up in front of those same classmates and wows them with a hip-hop-styled discourse on the New Deal. She’s a streetwise 10-year-old moppet with the smarts to snag extra time on a NYC Citibike, but not savvy enough to look both ways before crossing the street.
After narrowly escaping being hit by a car, she’s rescued by cell phone magnate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx, game but looking vaguely embarrassed). He’s running for mayor with the help of his kind, lonely assistant (Rose Byrne) and his over-caffeinated aide (Bobby Cannavale). Once Annie escapes the clutches of her boozy, tarty caretaker at the orphanage, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, in her third overly strident comic role this year), she quickly finds that rich people live pretty sweet lives, what with their digital animal wallpaper and movie premieres. (Speaking of which, the intentionally over-the-top-ridiculous film-within-a-film starring Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Rihanna looks way more fun than the main attraction.) And so, the once-heartwarming story of an orphan girl who craves the comfort of a real family is now a smash-cut commercial for the one percent, with lots of head-smackingly unsubtle product placement that never lets us forget how crassly commercially the whole enterprise is.
Musically, Annie is a disaster. The melodious original score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin gets the full-on Autotune pap treatment, which takes to these songs about as well as a lute to death metal. You won’t ever hear a worse rendition of ”Easy Street” than the one performed by Diaz and Cannivale—I promise. (The Sia-branded new songs feel much more at home.) One can only hope that Byrne, Diaz, and Cannavale had ”movie musical” on their bucket lists and will never tarnish their talents in such a way again. Aside from an unintentional homage to Zoolander that is so tone-deaf it’ll make you guffaw, Annie goes out of its way to make viewing it a hard-knock life…for us. D