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REVIEW: 'Oz the Great and Powerful.' Yellow brick roadkill

March 7, 2013

There's so much wrong with "Oz the Great and Powerful" that I feel obligated to start off by writing about what's wonderfully, magically right.

That's easy: The credit sequence.

There is so much joy and wonder in those few minutes--with period pop-ups and charming music--that I was lulled into the belief that this wasn't going to be just another Hollywood cash in on an American classic.

I was wrong.

From the moment James Franco (an actor who can be very right...in the right role) enters as the alleged wizard, the project doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The camera holds on him far too long in just about every shot, not showing us the man behind the magician but, rather, the sub-community theater actor behind the movie star. Never believable for a second, this could be the worst performance in a major motion picture I've seen in years--and blame should be shared equally with the director and editor.

But Franco isn't alone. Every one of the leads feels like the third choice. Franco fills in where Robert Downey Jr. or Johnny Depp might have brought some spark and none of the trio of witches--Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz--seem like they want to be in the film. And no wonder. All are saddled with playing various degrees of dumb, easily manipulated by this third-tier wiz even though they are the ones with the true powers. Lesson ladies: One sneaky guy can outplay three powerful women. How retro.

This "Oz" doesn't have the brains, heart or courage to pursue its own style. Once we get to Oz, the effects are so blatant and the performers so non-integrated that it feels like we are watching visual karaoke with the movie projected behind them. Far too many flying monkeys fill the sky while far too few interesting creatures populate the landscape. The two we do meet (a china doll voiced by Joey King and a bellhop-suited monkey voiced by Zach Braff) left me imagining a film that dispensed with the humans altogether and went all-CGI.

It couldn't have been much worse.

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