It seems sadly apt that the Daddy Warbucks figure played by Jamie Foxx in the new Annie is a cellphone mogul. Because Foxx is pretty much phoning in his performance.
A ho-hum remake/update of the movie musical about a plucky orphan and the moneyed patriarch whose icy heart she toasts like campfire marshmallows, Annie has its moments of charm and snap. Quvenzhané Wallis, the Oscar-nominated star of the trippy bayou indie Beasts of the Southern Wild, simply has to skip into a room - and into the frame - to light things up. Her opening-credits, cross-city scampering - leaving school in Harlem and heading downtown to station herself outside an Italian cafe where her real parents, she believes, used to dine - is full of energy and elan. And who can turn the whippersnapper down when she asks to borrow a CitiBike from a stranger returning it to its dock? So what if that's one of the bike-share program's biggest no-no's?
The main problem with Annie, directed by Will Gluck and produced by, among others, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is this: For a musical with numbers as indelibly hummable as "Tomorrow" and "It's a Hard Knock Life," the songs don't pop out at all. Foxx's voice sounds like his, albeit lacking a certain verve, but those of Wallis, Cameron Diaz (drunken floozy foster home proprietress Hannigan, a onetime almost-rock star), and Rose Byrne (personal assistant to Foxx's Will Stacks) have that synthetic, Auto-Tuned twang. It's like Broadway night at a karaoke bar. And the dance numbers have all the choreographic panache of a high school musical, not to denigrate high school musicals. (Byrne, for one, should call her dance instructor and request a refund.)
This Annie is set in the here and now, not the Great Depression of the original film and Broadway show. But New York is still a city of haves and have-nots, and Foxx's Stacks has it all - a capacious penthouse, a chauffeured SUV, a helicopter. He is also running for mayor, and it's a cellphone video of Stacks rescuing Annie from an oncoming car that suddenly gives his poll numbers a boost.
(Sony hacking-scandal footnote: Annie, from Sony's Columbia Pictures, has its own joke about the dictatorial leader of North Korea. Stacks' campaign manager, played by Bobby Cannavale, says he helped get one of the Kim Jongs elected. Not exactly on a par with Seth Rogen's The Interview, but still.)
Anyway, the sun will come out tomorrow, and it's a hard-knock life, and everybody ends up on a pier on the Jersey side of the Hudson, singing and dancing - even some uniformed NYPD cops. Kind of makes you feel good about life. Kind of.
Annie **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Will Gluck. With Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 58 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.EndText