Movie review: A not-so-cute Annie chugs along

Cameron Diaz (above left), the tyrannical foster mother, schemes to thwart the growing bond between the orphan played by Quvenzhane Wallis (top right, with Nicolette Pierini) and Jamie Foxx’s billionaire. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES
Cameron Diaz (above left), the tyrannical foster mother, schemes to thwart the growing bond between the orphan played by Quvenzhane Wallis (top right, with Nicolette Pierini) and Jamie Foxx’s billionaire. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

Review Musical

ANNIE (PG)

118 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2

The story: Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a spunky foster child in New York City, determinedly searching for her parents. Billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) becomes her temporary guardian in a bid to boost his popularity in the mayoral race. Meanwhile, sleazy adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale) and boozy foster home tyrant Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) cook up a scheme that threatens the growing bond between Stacks and Annie. Adapted from the 1977 Broadway musical of the same name.

The movie starts with a perky, red-haired, Caucasian Annie in a familiar-looking, iconic red dress giving a presentation in class. It turns out to be a jokey little introduction as the real Annie is soon unveiled and it hints at how this adaptation is different - Wallis is African-American and has more street smarts and is soon leading the class in an improv rap-and-clap session.

That energy carries over into the staging of one of the musical's best-known numbers, It's The Hard- Knock Life. With brooms, mops, cleaning cloths and smooth choreography, the foster girls at Miss Hannigan's mope about their lot with verve and vigour.

But director and co-writer Will Gluck (Friends With Benefits, 2011) seems to run out of steam and fresh ideas after that. Annie the movie merely chugs along when it should be roaring ahead, taking you on a ride and tugging at your heartstrings.

Turning Daddy Warbucks into a wealthy entrepreneur with an obsessive-compulsive disorder for cleanliness does not add much to the character beyond saddling Foxx with some lame jokes.

Adding self-aware references to product placement and the fact that this is a musical do not work either.

And the new songs written - including Opportunity and Who Am I - have a modern sensibility that makes them stick out from the rest of the material like sore thumbs.

It is as though Gluck is trying too hard to make this adaptation different from the many others which have come before.

The critical casting of Annie herself was a little disappointing as well. Wallis was exceptional as the fiercely resilient Hushpuppy in the critically acclaimed fantasy drama Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012). But here, she seems more restrained and even a little tentative at points.

One appreciates that Gluck has turned the cuteness dial down, but he might have moved it a few notches too far.

To riff on that paean to optimism: Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow/Another adaptation can't be too far away.