‘Collateral Beauty’ an Emotionally Manipulative Misfire

collateral_beauty_poster-1Will Smith really needs to fire his agent.

“Collateral Beauty” stars Smith as a grieving man who copes with the passing of his young daughter by writing letters to love, death and time. Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Michael Peña and Naomie Harris also star as David Frankel directs.

The trailers for this film were awful. They were illogical, cringe-inducing and emotionally manipulative, and led me and my friend to make jokes that this was a sequel to “Seven Pounds.” It seems Smith does these types of films every few Decembers, a crowd-pleasing, tear jerking drama a la “Pursuit of Happyness,” “Seven Pounds” and last year’s “Concussion.” The problem with these films is rarely Smith; it’s the screenplays. And again the script fails Smith as this is one of the most illogical, cringe-inducing and emotionally manipulative films in recent memory; at least the trailers didn’t lie about *that*.

Ok, I cannot talk about this film without describing the plot. The ACTUAL plot, not the faux one given by the trailers because they knew that no one would pay to see the genuine story of the film. This isn’t even a spoiler, as it is the 100% authentic plot of the film, divulged in the first 10 minutes. But if you truly want to see this film with absolutely no new information then stop reading now.

Still here? Great.

So the trailers paint this as some sort of cosmic/supernatural drama where the actual embodiments of love, time and death visit a grieving Will Smith to help him understand the meaning of life. That would be cheesy, but it would be genuine. But the ACTUAL plot is more manipulative: Smith’s daughter dies so he spends the next three years sulking around and neglecting his company. So three of his “friends” hire a private investigator that proceeds to break into the US postal service and retrieve the letters Smith wrote to love, death and time. The “friends” then hire three actors to portray the entities and confront Smith in hopes of getting the interactions caught on camera and then digitally removing the actors to make it look like Smith is talking to no one and is mentally unfit to run his company. Now isn’t that the heartwarming holiday film that should finally win Will Smith his Oscar?

The script here is just awful, from its narrative structure to its dialogue. While Smith deals with his anger towards time, love and death, turns out his friends (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña) all have their own issues with time, love and death, respectively. Get it?! We’re all connected, as the film’s tagline reads.

Vomitatious bits of dialogue like Norton saying “I didn’t feel love, it’s like I became love,” make you want to roll your eyes as much as use your popcorn bucket as a sickness bag. But what else can you expect from Allan Loeb, the brilliant author of cinematic legends like “The Switch” and “The Dilemma.”

The acting here is solid, at least given the content they’re working with. No actor seems to be sleepwalking and since most all the names on the poster have multiple Oscar nominations it’s not like that is a surprise. But there are times that even they can’t escape the script (a teary-eyed Will Smith angrily singing “Row Your Boat” is awkward and unintentionally funny). And I guess the film…looks good(?) Like, it was definitely shot on a camera. Being set in Christmas-time New York City will always elevate a project, although the setting has absolutely zero to do with the plot.

Now the film was moving along and I knew it wasn’t any good, but it was watchable. Then the climax happened, and it got me mad. The ending of this film is so contrived and so insulting to the intelligence of the audience that it is almost unbelievable. It’s the type of ending that only can exist in film because normal humans in the real world would have had a conversation very early on that would have cleared things right up. I let out an involuntary eyeroll and “oh my god” as the credits began to roll.

“Collateral Beauty” takes the charisma and charm of Will Smith and throws it out the window and is yet another swing-and-a-miss by the once A-list powerhouse superstar. Long gone are the days of Smith being a box office god (“Suicide Squad” doesn’t count) and apparently here to stay are his ill-advised attempts to win trophies. “Collateral Beauty” does collateral damage to the image of Smith, Winslet, Norton and a half dozen other actors who can’t save an awful script, no matter how big their paychecks were.

Critics Rating: 3/10

Warner Bros.

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