This star-studded drama is a lethal combination of sappy, mean-spirited and dull.
Poor Will Smith. The former Fresh Prince of Bel Air star jumped from television to rap to film superstardom decades ago, but he just can't kick his habit of maudlin motion pictures. In The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, he played sad and struggling. In I Am Legend and Hancock, he was lonely and misunderstood. In Winter's Tale, he made a brief appearance as part of the film's romantic fantasy about angels and fate. But combine all of that together, and it still won't prepare you for the nauseating disaster that is Collateral Beauty.
Here, Smith plays advertising executive Howard Inlet, who falls into a deep depression in the wake of a personal tragedy. But with a takeover deal in the works, his colleagues Claire (Kate Winslet), Whit (Edward Norton) and Simon (Michael Peña) are worried that he'll jeopardise their big payday. So, they hatch a plan to capture his erratic behaviour on video. Enter three theatre actors (played by Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Jacob Latimore), who his friends pay to interact with Howard while pretending that they're the physical embodiments of love, death and time. Naturally.
In a nutshell, the main thrust of Collateral Beauty involves gaslighting a bereaved man so that his work pals can cash in. Winslet, Norton and Peña's characters each have their own sob stories to justify their actions, but there's no escaping the underlying nastiness driving this supposedly upbeat tale, which is also set at Christmas to add even more cheer. Elsewhere, Naomie Harris plays a grief counsellor who helps flesh out the main backstory, but just ends up being saddled with terrible lines that attempt to explain the movie's title.
Don't assume that director David Frankel or writer Allan Loeb haven't thought twice about the narrative, though. The filmmaker behind Marley and Me and the scribe responsible for the Kevin James vehicle Here Comes the Boom know exactly what they're trying to do. Bathed in warm shades, Collateral Beauty is happily packaged as comfortable, contemplative, festive fluff that will make audiences feel rather than think. Alas, it's pretty hard to be overcome with emotion when you're groaning at each calculated, predictable and downright unpleasant turn. A modern-day A Christmas Carol this most certainly is not, as much as the film tries to convince you otherwise.
And if you're wondering if the onscreen talent can salvage the film, we'll save you the trouble: they can't. Almost all of the starry players, including sombre-looking Big Willie himself, sleepwalk through an effort that really doesn't demand much else of them. In fact, The Maze Runner's Latimore is the only actor who seems invested in what he's doing, and he offers Collateral Beauty's best performance as a result. Not that you can blame his co-stars for checking out. Viewers will almost certainly do the same.