Oh 2016, you trickster, you weren’t done with us yet. Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Peña, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and a partridge in a pear tree star in what is hopefully the year’s last white-elephant gift—a woefully sincere, deeply silly movie about nothing more or less than Love, Time, and Death. No, really: Smith is Howard Inlet, a high-flying New York adman who builds brilliant concepts and makes million-dollar deals, which must be why he’s allowed to give grand speeches to his underlings and ask them apparently-not-rhetorical questions like “What is your why?” without actually expecting a response. But when his six-year-old daughter dies, he retreats into a near-catatonic state, shunning the things he once held dear—work, speech, Seamless—and emerging only to make elaborate domino sculptures in his palatial office, which he listlessly knocks down as soon as they’re finished and walks away from without a backward glance. He’s that sad.
Desperate and out of ideas after two years of this misery business, his colleagues (Norton, Peña, and Winslet, all game to a fault) hatch a plan to hire a ragtag trio of freelance thespians and have them pose as the abstract concepts Howard has been penning angry, cathartic letters to: Mirren will play Death, Knightley is Love (of course), and Latimore a sarcastic, skateboarding Time. Can they bring him back from the brink? Are there other life lessons to be learned? Were the craft services on set just completely amazing? Only two of those questions will be answered, though it’s not hard to see the big reveal coming, heralded as it is by all the red neon arrows and ah-ooo-gah horns. These actors are too good to be entirely sunk by the sheer silliness of the material (with the exception of Smith, who seems fully committed to playing the role of a human frown-face emoji). But for all good Intentions, they can’t save a movie that so clearly wants to be something greater– It’s a Will-derful Life? Grief, Actually?—but mostly ends up a Collateral mess. C–