Around the time Quentin Tarantino was promoting “Django Unchained,” he announced his impending retirement. When asked why he was retiring, Tarantino replied, “Directors don't get better as they get older. Usually the worst films in their filmography are those last four at the end.” Whether or not Tarantino is going to stay true to his word is irrelevant because he's right. All great directors eventually lose their edge. They get lazy, lose their resourcefulness, and in some cases, simply cover every square inch of their film with CG effects, cross their fingers, and then hope for the best.
With all of that said, it seems that Sam Raimi – the man who brought us the “Evil Dead” series, “Crimewave,” and “A Simple Plan” – has finally reached that point in his directing career. His latest film, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” represents everything a Raimi film shouldn't be: it's bloated; it's uneven, and worst of all it, it isn't much fun.
Simultaneously serving as prequel to the original MGM version of the “Wizard of Oz” and the classic L. Frank Baum novel, “Oz the Great and Powerful” revolves around a shifty, womanizing carnival magician (James Franco) who inadvertently winds up in the magical land of Oz while riding a hot air balloon during a hurricane (at the time, he was trying to escape the jealous boyfriend of a former lover). While in Oz, Franco is repeatedly mistaken for “the great man that will save them all.” Franco plays along, at least initially when he's treated like a king and can sweet-talk all sorts of witches and fairy creatures into his bed.
But when the Wicked Witch of the West (Mila Kunis) and her manipulative sister (Rachel Weis) start terrorizing the whimsical country, Franco starts to have second thoughts about hanging around Oz. Will he hitch a ride back to Kansas on the nearest hot air balloon or will he stand his ground and fight back? Here's a hint: it's a multi-million dollar movie produced by Disney. What do you think?
You know a film's got problems when the most likable or recognizably human characters on screen are a winged monkey in a bellhop uniform and a talking porcelain doll. Robert Downey, Jr. was the original choice to play the role of the youthful wizard of Oz, and you get the sense that he's the only one who could have made this sleazy character charming. Franco, on the other hand, isn't up to it. He plays Oz with that same smirking, aloof quality he brings to all of his roles now, as if it's all part of some bigger joke that only he understands.
It also doesn't help that all of the female characters are ineffectual and weak. They mostly sit around all dewy-eyed, pining for the Wizard and loudly wondering when he's going to save them. The true low point occurs when it's revealed that the Wicked Witch only became the Wicked Witch when the Wizard f——d her and didn't call the next day. Ugh. Couldn't she have just keyed his hot air balloon and moved on?
Boasting a number of unnecessary nods to the MGM original that only serve to draw unfair comparisons, ill-considered set designs that resemble Middle Earth by way of Candyland, and an overly long running time, “Oz the Great and Powerful” serves as a chilling reminder that Sam Raimi hasn't just lost his touch – he also might be slowly morphing into Tim Burton.
Rating: W W