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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look: 18.18%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 9.09%
Total Crap54.55%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Collateral Beauty
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Extremely Lousy And Incredibly Cloying"
1 stars

In one of the opening scenes of “Collateral Beauty,” someone remarks “When something starts with a six-year-old dying, nothing feels right.” I would be hard-pressed to disagree with that notion but at the same time, that hardly begins to explain the staggering depths of sheer unadulterated crumminess that this monstrosity plummets to over the course of 96 increasingly excruciating minutes. This is a film that is so grotesquely conceived and idiotically executed in every imaginable way (not to mention more than a few unimaginable ones) that it actually forced me to consider the very real possibility that it might actually make the grisly likes of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” seem almost staid by comparison. It doesn’t quite reach that level, largely because it is frankly too stupid to ever become quite as offensive as that earlier work—but it is so completely demented in so many ways that it beggars belief that it could have made its journey from the page to big screen without anyone in a position of power along the way trying to shut the whole thing down in a desperate attempt to save embarrassment all around.

To be honest, I am a little wary about trying to recap the basic premise of the film because it is so utterly appalling at its core that I worry that some of you might think that I was pulling your collective leg but I assure you that I am not making any of this up. Will Smith stars as Howard, the most dynamic, brilliant, caring, altruistic and all-around awesome ad agency head that ever walked the earth—combine the best aspects of Jesus and Don Draper and you barely begin to scratch the surface of the miracle that is Howard. Well, that is how he used to be at least—following the tragic death of his young daughter to a rare form of cancer, he has shut down completely to the point where he has lost his wife, he barely sleeps or speaks and when he does show up at the office, it is only to create elaborate domino structures that he then topples without a thought. His partners in the firm—Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena)—are sad to see what has happened to their friend and co-worker but are even sadder because they are trying to sell the firm to a conglomerate but cannot do it unless Howard, with his majority of shares, signs off on the deal and he refuses to even acknowledge the deal, let alone agree to do it

In the hopes of having him declared incompetent to make such decisions, they hire a private detective to dig up anything they can strange that they can use against their friend and colleague but all she can find is that he has written and mailed letters to Love, Time and Death expressing his anger over what happened to his daughter. From this, Whit gets what he considers to be a brilliant idea—they will hire a trio of actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore) to approach Howard in public claiming to actually be Love, Time and Death in order to provoke confrontations with him that they can have videotaped and, after digitally erasing the actors, used to prove that their beloved friend is unfit to lead the business. Amazingly, everyone involved thinks this is a fine idea—Knightley’s character has a couple of qualms but nothing that can’t be fixed by just ignoring them—and the three actors set off on their business. At the same time, each one winds up serving as an unexpected sounding board for Howard’s partners and their own problems that just happen to coincide with their roles—Mirren’s Death, for example, winds up advising Simon, who has the kind of alarming cough that Camille might have found to be a tad overdone. When he isn’t being gaslit by the people that he thinks love him, Howard meets Madeline (Naomie Harris), the head of a support group for parents who have lost their children and slowly begins to open up about what happened and his inability to fully process it in a way that would allow him to move on with his life.

As awful as this may sound in print, that is nothing compared to the experience of seeing it unfold before your increasingly incredulous eyes. The screenplay by Allan Loeb, whose credits include the scripts on such classics as “Just Go with It” and “Rock of Ages,” is clearly striving to become a modern holiday classic (oh yeah, the whole thing takes place at Christmas) that will jerk tears from viewers for decades to come but pretty much fails to pull that off on practically every imaginable level. This may be a film about ad people but with its blend of sticky sentiment, glib dialogue and a determination to pull an emotional response out of viewers by any means necessary every 30 seconds or so, it feels like it was written by them as well. That sense especially comes through in the way that the film deals with Howard’s friends—they cook up a fairly monstrous plan in order to get their pal out of the way of a deal that will make them a lot of money but it seems to want us to look at them as good people who are altruistically trying to break Howard out of his shell and who will just happen to make a huge profit in the process. The story theoretically wants to examine the ways in which people struggle to process grief in the wake of unspeakable tragedy but Loeb’s screenplay offers absolutely no insights in this regard, which would have been bade enough on its own but which will prove to be embarrassing for anyone who has seen “Manchester by the Sea,” another film that deals with that very subject but which does so in a far more moving and realistic manner that anything on display here. Instead, the script keeps trying to sell the title phrase, whose meaning continues to elude me despite being repeated throughout the film, as some profound statement but my guess is that the phrase “fetch” will happen long before that one does.

The most astonishing and surprising thing about “Collateral Beauty” is that so many good actors were somehow convinced to sign on for this project even after reading a script that should have tripped off their bullshit detectors after reading only a few pages. Were they that desperate to appear in a movie with the potential to become a holiday perennial that they were willing to slum this badly? Whatever the reason, these are some of the weakest and most completely useless roles that they have ever had the displeasure to essay and none of them can figure out anything to do with them to make them seem even remotely plausible. Even the great Helen Mirren—an actress who normally seems incapable of making a false move onscreen and who can enliven even the silliest movie with her presence (hell, she even made the infamously bad “Caligula” into something close to palatable whenever she was on the screen)—is left grasping at straws that remaining well out of reach in her depressingly hammy turn. For his part, Will Smith seems to have confused feeling nothing with doing nothing and spends nearly all of his screen time just standing there doing absolutely nothing that might convince us in the audience that he is playing a character. That said, this approach is almost forgivable because if you are going to work for a director (“The Devil Wears Prada” auteur David Frankel) who clearly has asked absolutely nothing of you as an actor, why bother giving him anything?

As bad as “Collateral Beauty” is throughout— and if it isn’t the single worst film of 2016, it comes mighty close—it is during the last few minutes that it transcends from shameless and manipulative crap into something truly unforgivable thanks to the deployment of not one, but two “shocking” plot twists presumably meant to startle viewers out of their stupors. While I won’t reveal them here, I will state that the first one is perhaps the least surprising twist to pop up in a movie since the big revelation in “The Village”—one so crashingly obvious that I spent the entire movie assuming that it had to be a bit of misdirection designed to distract us from the real twist—and the second is so arbitrary and so outrageous that it could potentially spark revolts in theaters from patrons annoyed that they spent their money on something so utterly puerile. What makes these twists even more infuriating is that with just a modicum of effort and common sense, both of them could have been massaged into developments that, while perhaps no more plausible from a logic standpoint, might have played slightly better than what has been presented here. Of course, if such things as effort and common sense were in any sort of abundance amongst the people assembled to make “Collateral Beauty,” no one would have shown up again after the first day of filming.

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originally posted: 12/16/16 06:29:15
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User Comments

9/20/17 ArizonaBro Beautiful film. 5 stars
8/17/17 Luisa Well acted, moving, great story line (not a lot of people get it). 4 stars
5/13/17 George S I loved the movie. Deep on so many levels which clearly were above the reviewer's intellect 4 stars
4/24/17 David H. A lame and pretentious excuse for emotion and honesty. 2 stars
3/14/17 TJs Mom I can identify with his character. His anguish was believable. Well done. 5 stars
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  16-Dec-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2017


  DVD: 14-Mar-2017

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