Thursday, March 7, 2013

Under the Rainbow

Oz the Great and Powerful       Final Cut Score: 70%

It's a shame Robert Downey Jr. wasn't available. The man in the flying iron suit was the initial name attached to Oz the Great and Powerful, Disney's long-in-development prequel to the 1939 ruby-slippered classic.

When RDJ dropped out, the Mouse House's attention turned to Johnny Depp – another guy who can play zany in his sleep. Add that to his banktacular track record with Mickey - the Pirates of the Caribbean quartet and Alice in Wonderland filled Disney's vaults with nearly five billion bucks - and Depp appeared to be the perfect fit.

But alas, like Downey Jr., Depp was an Oz no-go as well.

Which brings us to the man squarely in the crosshairs of this review, James Franco, by all accounts third on the Oz depth chart and a thespian best tethered to supporting roles.
Any of the original Spider-Man films? Check. Pineapple Express? Check. That dubious stint on General Hospital? Check. (I'll credit his work in 127 Hours largely to the genius of the man behind the cam rather than his actor in front of it.)

Remember how disinterested Franco appeared in that disastrous Oscars outing? He's in similar form in Oz the Great and Powerful. Franco is woefully weak as Oz. A tip of the hat to Glinda the Good Witch for even professing it so.

Beginning in black and white as an homage to MGM's masterpiece, we laggardly embark on the journey to the land of Munchkins and yellow bricks in the Sunflower State circa 1905; Oz working the travelling circus circuit as a sideshow magician with legerdemain as his sole calling card. In sweeps a twister, dumping the fraud into the carnival-colored land of Pandora Oz.

Cue a trio of witches: one evil (Rachel Weisz slumming it), one with dark-side leanings (Mila Kunis in a dominatrix getup) and one purer than the bubble force field that envelops her castle (Michelle Williams still stuck in Marilyn Monroe-mode). It's the goody-goody Glinda that steals Oz's huckster heart as the lovebirds devise a smoke-and-mirrors plan to take back Emerald City from a bunch of flying baboons.

Ploddingly paced with bursts of tepid wonderment, director Sam Raimi's heart is in the right place but the lackluster script - penned by a pair whose greatest cinematic achievement is DreamWorks' bomb Rise of the Guardians - keeps Raimi caged until the nicely-executed ending assault on Emerald City.

Raimi's biggest mistake is picking his Spider-Man cohort Franco for his centerpiece. With wooden line readings and a flatlined energy output, Franco is massively miscast as the supposedly charismatic Oz.

The film's CGI'd talking monkey is more alive than Franco. And it totally looks fake.