SCORE: 1.5 stars (out of 4)
With Oz the Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi continues his George Lucas-like rampage to destroy as much as possible of what you loved as a child. He took care of Spider-Man with a series of increasingly awful movies that became so embarrassing that Sony was making plans to reboot it before the end credits rolled on Spider-Man 3. And now he’s curb-stomped The Wizard of Oz with a prequel so awful it made the Pope step down from his job and Hugo Chavez die.
There’s one character that encapsulates just about every aspect of what went wrong with this abomination, and that’s Finley the Monkey, a kindly, Mogwai-like winged primate rendered with terrible CGI. Finley serves as the sidekick for James Franco’s Oz character as he skips down the yellow brick road to career suicide.
Think back to Garden State, back when Braff still had hope of making a movie career for himself. He played a disillusioned actor who returned home to New Jersey, embarrassed that he was best known as a mentally disabled kid who gave a thumbs-up at the end of a corny family movie. Finley, with his Dora the Explorer-esque one-liners, makes that imaginary Braff character look like Henry V. Finley is just like all those smarmy talking animals Disney plopped into its animated movies in the late 1990s, boring kids while filling adults with more and more rage with each bit of forced wackiness.
Raimi, who was once something of a genius with low-budget practical effects in his Evil Dead/Army of Darkness days, forgets everything he once stood for to allow animators to spray crappy graphics all over the screen, taking special care to insert another jack-in-the-box style 3D gimmick every 10 minutes. Go back, if you dare, and watch his first Spider-Man movie, and witness the abomination of PlayStation 2-level graphics come to stillborn life on the screen whenever Spidey web-swings. Then suffer through Oz the Great and Powerful and wonder how and why he signed off on regressive, PlayStation 1-style CGI.
Even if the movie had looked decent, though, it still would have been just as awful, thanks to the script and performances. Franco acts as though he prepared himself for the role by beating himself on the head with a mallet until all his skill and nuance spilled out of his nose. He’s a bug-eyed, hand-waving moron in this movie. Since he’s generally a cool actor it’s possible that he’s either mocking the material or just giving Raimi what he wants.
The movie starts off in squarish-screen black-and-white, finding Oz as a conniving carnival magician who’s whisked away from Kansas to Oz by one of those trusty twisters that do that. Then the aspect ratio changes to widescreen and 3D color while all hope for passable entertainment gradually fades away.
Oz is giddy that he’s landed in a fantasy world that shares the same name as his own, and is just crawling with witches (played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams) who want him to take them behind the curtain.
All the crushes leads to nothing but drama, with the witches going all Pretty Little Liars, accusing each other of being wicked, tricking one another into turning into biting into apples that transform them into cackling green monstrosities and occasionally fighting with electric sorcery in the manner of Gandalf and Saruman.
Kunis’s character, in particular, is the definition of “the hotter the crazier.” Three minutes with Oz and she’s already talking about marriage, and is then so offended when he wants to see other witches before he settles down that she’s laying waste to innocent villagers.
Oz, meanwhile, is off with Finley and a walking, talking China doll (don’t ask) to save Oz from all the destruction by putting together an overly laborious plan that involves all sorts of dumb people and creatures to stage a reasonably cool-looking climactic battle.
By the time you get to that point, though, you feel as though your brain and heart have long since waved bye-bye to you, and just want to go home.
As awful as the movie is, at least there is one truth that it gets just right. Witches be crazy.
Starring James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff. Written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Sam Raimi. 130 minutes. Rated PG.