Tuesday 17 October 2017

Movie reviews: Collateral Beauty rears its ugly head

This handsome galaxy opera is fun for a while, but doesn't live up to its premise, says Paul Whitington
Collateral Beauty (12A, 97mins)
Rating: 2/5
Why Him? (15A, 111mins)
Rating: 2/5
The Eagle Huntress (No cert, IFI, 87mins)
Rating: 3/5

Collateral damage: Will Smith and Helen Mirren star, but Collateral Beauty doesn’t deliver
Collateral damage: Will Smith and Helen Mirren star, but Collateral Beauty doesn’t deliver

Paul Whitington

Someday, someone will have to explain to me how Collateral Beauty ever got made. Pretentious and glib in equal measure, it stars Will Smith as the absurdly named Howard Inlet, a man with a very heavy heart. When we first meet him, he's a cheesy Manhattan advertising guru who gives high voltage pep talks to his staff and brims with confidence and vim. Shift forward three years, however, and he's a shadow of his former self.

Howard's child has died and, understandably, that's not an event he's able to move past. In America, that's just not good enough and while Howard fiddles, his ad agency is going down the toilet. And so his colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) decide to do something about it.

Do they check him into a clinic, or contact the city's finest shrinks? No, they hire actors to pose as mythological figures and scare him into signing away the rights to his company. In his grief, Howard has been writing angry letters to 'Death', 'Love' and 'Time' in which he rails against all they've taken away from him. So Claire, Whit and Simon persuade three impecunious theatre actors to impersonate Death and Co and frighten their friend into getting his act together.

"Oh god," I hear you say... and you'll be saying it a lot if you go and see this thing. Helen Mirren plays Death, Keira Knightley, Love, and the Hallmark platitudes they spout have to be heard to be believed. Naomie Harris turns up in a key role, but no number of good actors would have been enough to save this half-baked, mushy and offensively glib production.

***

Back in the 1940s and 50s, when Hollywood knew how to make comedies, a perfectly decent entertainment might have been built around Why Him?'s core idea. But modern writers and producers tend to panic if their script goes 10 minutes without a reference to the male sexual organ and crassness is often mistaken for wit. Bryan Cranston reminded me a little of Jack Lemmon in Why Him?, and is well capable of fronting up a fine comedy. This is not one such.

Cranston is Ned Fleming, the boss of a small-town mid-western printing company whose business is rapidly going the way of the dodo. He frets about this, but is more worried about the fact his beloved daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) has found herself a boyfriend. She's at college out in California and has asked her father and mother (Megan Mullally) to fly out and meet her new man.

But when Ned and Barb are introduced to Laird (James Franco), they're horrified. He's the CEO of a computer gaming company, but his immense wealth does not reassure them because he swears constantly, has numerous tattoos and an alarming tendency to invade one's personal space. And while Barb resolves to try and get used to him, Ned decides it'll be a cold day in hell when he allows Laird to marry his precious daughter.

Franco's pretty good at comedy and has fun playing the obnoxious but decent Laird. Though the cast in general do their best, it's all in the service of a flabby, aimless script.

***

Shot in the wilds of inner Mongolia, Otto Bell's handsome documentary The Eagle Huntress tells the story of an intrepid 13-year-old girl who flouts tradition by taking up her country's most prestigious pastime.

For centuries, Mongolians have taken eaglets and trained them to hunt, but it's always been done by men.

With the help of her father, Aisholpan sets out to become the first female eagle hunter and her spirit and bravery are remarkable.

The footage used in Otto Bell's film is breathtaking, but unfortunately it's accompanied by an overbearing soundtrack and commentary that cheapen Aisholpan's achievements. Silence, or the sound of the wind, might have been more effective.

- Paul Whitington

Irish Independent

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