During the opening scene of Guy Ritchie's "Aladdin" remake, Will Smith is speaking to a couple of children on a boat overlooking a giant sea and beautiful city ahead. At first, his character has an accent, and it's tricky to decipher exactly what Smith is trying to do with it. After a few lines, the actor all but tosses the accent away and starts speaking like Will Smith.
Ritchie's film is one that didn't need to exist because it adds nothing new to the classic animated original. If you are going to mess with treasured source material like that, make sure you have a reason and that it can be both distinguishable from the previous film and bring back memories of that first adventure. This movie fails at both.
You know the drill. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a street rat who hustles around the town with his pet monkey, stealing things while showing off his heartfelt side by handing some fruit to a few poor kids. He runs from the law constantly, is looked down upon, and seemingly walks blindly through life until he meets the gorgeous princess named Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Before long, they are escaping authorities, hiding out in his "penthouse" hideaway, and falling for each other.
Enter good looking princes (like Billy Magnussen) and a Grand Vizier (Marwin Kenzari) who either want Jasmine or a special magic lamp with a certain genie stuck inside of it (Smith). There's also some hidden treasure, an aging Sultan (Navid Negahban), and Jasmine's flirty handmaiden (Nasim Pedrad) getting in their screen time here.
And then there is the singing, which is not good at all. One of the great things about the animated film were the songs, because they lifted the material and touched even the coldest of hearts. Here, when Smith or Massoud break into song, the feeling is equivalent to when you bite into a soggy chip that got trapped in the bottom of the nacho cheese: nauseous and unsettling. The opposite effect.
The actors try, especially Smith. He's underrated and versatile, but even his charm can't help this movie find its own magic carpet ride. He's giant, blue, and gets laughs for the wrong reasons. When you touch a role that the late Robin Williams made legendary, the shoes are impossible to fill. Massoud and Scott are decent space-fillers, but neither stand out or make the part evolve. Magnussen seems to be the only actor who is in on the joke and having a good time. Everybody else is reading their lines as if they tried out for Shakespeare and got invited to the wrong set. It's phoned in work.
There are far too many unintentionally funny sequences as well, especially when the actors are fumbling over accents or just tripping over their lines. It all feels like a high school play with a large production budget and a charitable but half-involved cast. If you watched the trailer and cringed a bit, imagine stretching those two minutes into two hours and you have the movie.
I am a fan of Ritchie's work, especially when he's a Quentin Tarantino grifter ("Snatch", "RocknRolla"), and his "Sherlock Holmes" films are a lot of fun, but he bombed with last year's "King Arthur" film. "Aladdin" isn't as bad as the Charlie Hunnam misfire, but it lacks a true identity and doesn't stand out on its own.
Example: "The Beauty and The Beast" live-action remake was wonderful because Bill Condon injected new life and a true emotional core into the film. Dan Stevenson and Emma Watson were terrific, making you remember the original Disney version fondly while accepting the remake as a suitable successor. When you left, it was easy to detect why Condon did that.
I can't figure out a single reason Ritchie remade this film into a part live-action, mostly-CGI update. None of it jumps off the screen. The acting, writing (Ritchie and John August), and directing are all suspect. Sure, the production design is well done, but that's like finding a good tile job inside a blown out building. The musical performances barely hit the mark, especially the hugely satisfying number "A Whole New World." It's all subpar.
With a director like Ritchie and a star like Smith, it was right to expect big things here, but sadly when I left, I wasn't just disappointed. I left bemused.
Everything didn't have to be perfect here, but Ritchie's film had to do one thing: retain some of the magic of the original. Something to make me feel this was done for the art and not for the dollar. There's no magic here.
Do yourself a favor and skip this remake of "Aladdin". Choose the original instead.