Will Smith sells himself short yet again in this torturously schmaltzy rip-off of A Christmas Carol
There are three Will Smiths. There's the wise-cracking, bona fide movie star we love (star of Independence Day and Men in Black). There's the serious, dramatic, Oscar-chasing actor from Ali and Concussion. And then there's this other, weirdly downbeat Will Smith who mistakenly imagines that what audiences really want is to see him moping throughout the most tedious schmaltz imaginable, in the likes of Seven Pounds and The Pursuit of Happyness. Guess which Will Smith shows up for Collateral Beauty?
Smith plays advertising agency guru Howard, who lost his six-year-old child to cancer two years ago and has become a mumbling shadow of his former self, dividing his time equally between making elaborate domino runs in the office and obsessively writing letters to the abstract concepts of Time, Love and Death ('The three things that connect every human being on Earth'). With clients deserting him left and right, Howard's three business partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña) hit upon an unconventional solution: they will hire a trio of actors (Jacob Latimore, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren) to appear to Howard as the aforementioned concepts, in the hope of making him think he's crazy, and thereby getting him voted off the board in time for a big merger.
This thinly-veiled rip-off of A Christmas Carol would be bad enough, but the sickly-sweet factor gets cranked up to 11 when it turns out that each of the business partners also has a personal problem that needs fixing. The cheesy platitudes come thick and fast, with only a twinkly-eyed Mirren (accessorising Death with a fetching blue hat) looking like she's having any fun. Winslet, in particular, wears an expression that screams 'I can't believe it's come to this' throughout, while Knightley is pure rabbit-in-the-headlights as Love, delivering terrible lines like, 'I am the only why!' with as straight a face as she can muster.
Leaving aside the distastefully unethical central set-up (they are supposed to be his friends, after all), the film completely fails to convince on an emotional level. It also lacks follow-through, notably in the scene where Naomie Harris's grief counsellor clumsily attempts to explain the film's title but tails off in the middle. Still, it could be worse – The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds both clocked in around the two-hour mark and this is a mere 97-minutes, so at least there's that.
General release from Mon 26 Dec.