Oscar bait rarely comes as tone-deaf, ill-conceived and downright mean-spirited as Collateral Beauty, a shockingly inept drama that abjectly wastes a fantastic, awards-friendly cast.
Advertising exec Howard Inlet (Will Smith) is left a broken man after the death of his young daughter, such that his increasingly eccentric behaviour has caused business to suffer. His friends and business partners, Whit Yardshaw (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet) and Simon Scott (Michael Peña), then conspire to pull their friend out of his funk and save the company…by hiring actors to play wise manifestations of Love (Keira Knightley), Death (Helen Mirren) and Time (Jacob Latimore), the very same entities Howard has been writing angry letters to.
Warner Bros. were apparently so acutely aware of how un-marketable the real premise is that they decided to falsely advertise a different one instead. The plot that was marketed to audiences – that these manifestations were in fact real – is daft enough, but writer Allan Loeb (The Dilemma, Here Comes the Boom) actually one-ups it by introducing this corporate intrigue narrative device, which makes it incredibly difficult to like Howard’s friends or at all get invested in this massive act of deception, especially once its true utility and intent is revealed later on.
Will Smith frequently feels like a supporting character here in his own movie, off-screen for large portions and mumbling as much if not more than he actually speaks. While he certainly tries his Will Smith in December best, the story orbiting around him is so utterly ugly and reprehensible that his efforts are largely for naught.
He’s not alone, though; nobody here gets out alive, including not just the aforementioned cast but also Naomie Harris as a fellow bereaved parent and the terrific Ann Dowd as a private investigator. Quite what attracted so many marvelous performers to such a car crash of a screenplay is truly baffling, if certainly an indicator of how differently a movie can read from page to end product, especially on a tonal level.
It all concludes with two outrageous plot twists, one predictable, one not so much, that only further call the previous 90-something minutes into question and reduce the pic’s narrative coherence to near-zero. For a film that wants the audience to become invested in a man trying to re-build his life, it sure as Hell makes them jump through a lot of hoops to get there.
A staggeringly misguided effort that’s recommendable only for those with a voracious interest in cinema of the bizarre, Collateral Beauty is a sure future Razzie nominee and Oscar bait at its most transparently manipulative and insipid.
Collateral Beauty is in cinemas now