starring James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire
directed by Sam Raimi
by Walter Chaw Based on L. Frank Baum's little-known Pussyhound of Oz, Sam Raimi's career nadir Oz the Great and Powerful (hereafter O-Gap) answers the question of who you would ask to anchor your $300M+ tentpole extravaganza: yes, James Franco, who's now claimed the mantle of the worst actor in the United States from the quiescent Paul Walker. Franco is an avatar of the picture's bad decisions, from the Zach Braff-voiced CGI monkey sidekick to the sassy CGI Hummel figurine to the tragic miscasting of Mila Kunis as Theodora, a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West. Yes indeedy, fans of the MGM original, of Baum's wondrous series of books, and of the shit-show "Wicked" will all hate it equally--almost as much as neophytes to the whole damned mess who will come for what Raimi's proudly proclaimed "the ultimate Disney movie" and leave with a mouthful of exactly as promised. It's blindingly obnoxious, tasteless in a meaningless way, and occasionally makes reference to Army of Darkness just because, I suspect, Raimi's last-resort defensive posture is to fall back on what he knows. But it's not nearly enough to save him here. The argument with weight is that the more expensive a movie becomes, the less likely it's going to be good; the first clue that Raimi is creatively bankrupt is that while his buddy Bruce Campbell appears in this film, Campbell isn't the star.
Campbell was tailor-made for con-man/lothario Oz (Franco), a small-time carnival illusionist in Kansas (and Oz-ites, take note: Didn't Oz arrive from Omaha? Never mind) who spends his time duping small-town lovelies into turning tricks for the little trinkets he conjures for them. Soon a twister whisks him to Technicolor Oz, where he meets waifu Theodora; is declared the fabled saviour of the land; and is taken to Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), the two of them conspiring to have Oz kill sweet Glinda (Michelle Williams)--who, in her Kansas incarnation, is betrothed to some dude named "Gale." Follow? It doesn't matter if you follow. There's a yellow-brick road, copyright-circumventing references to cowardly lions and scarecrows, and Munchkins used as adorable comic relief. None as adorable, however, as monkey man-servant-cum-bellhop-cum-pimp Finley (Braff), who, at the insistence of the Magic Kingdom's braintrust, was amplified in the final incarnation to Kong-ian bloat. He, Oz, and made-of-china China Girl (Joey King) wander around familiar sets (reanimated into shambling, eye-stabbing half-life in a giant 3D-abomination-producing mainframe) while nobody except Williams manages to protect their dignity. Oz, it goes without saying, is a real motherfucker who needs to learn in a short 140 minutes how to be the hero the backwards townsfolk of Oz are waiting for.
Though it's been decades since I walked out on a film, the temptation was as strong during O-Gap as the flight urge that overtakes one whilst watching Ron Howard's The Grinch--and for the same reasons. It's a movie that has no audience; in its attempts to please everyone, it pleases no one. Oddly inappropriate for children but not inappropriate enough for adults, it's clumsily-plotted, poorly-paced, atrociously cast, and so on and so on. By any measure it's awful--too long, too garish, too unsure of itself, of whether it's trying for slapstick or nickelodeon nostalgia or sentiment (stretched to the point of mawkishness in a denouement manufactured for maximum self-reference). There's nothing going on beneath the surface and too much going on above, and it represents what is frankly the first movie by Sam Raimi I haven't liked even a little. The biggest shame is that there is an absolute treasure trove of startling images and great stories to be mined from the Oz mythology, yet O-Gap, with its feeling of shit being made up as it goes along until we've lapped well over two hours, only has the wit to create a story based entirely on Oz's ability to get some strange and how a woman scorned, denied a man's sweet attention, can be a real witch. I have no doubt there'll be worse movies than this in 2013. I do have my doubts that I'll hate any of them more.