The similarities between actor James Franco and Oz – the titular ‘wizard’ he portrays in Sam Raimi’s ‘Oz the Great and Powerful – are undeniable. Both are obviously egotistic individuals with high opinions of themselves, barely bothering with niceties and avoiding all social interaction as they coast through life with an undeserved sense of smugness and a misguided opinion of their own charisma.
And yet somehow both manage to be occasionally likable despite their shortcomings and aloofness.
We find Oz in his native habitat, a dodgy magician conning hicks in a travelling fairground. It seems Oz has the ability but not the drive to go the extra mile, so he and offsider Finley (Zach Braff) face an increasingly small number of punters, with diminishing financial returns the obvious result.
Still Oz does enough to keep himself amused. Rip ‘em up, try it on with the local women and move on to the next town.
Then a storm lifts him up and transports him to another place entirely. A bright, colourful, frankly lurid place that could only have been imagined by people eating gallons of ice cream while gunning can after can of Red Bull.
Over the next two odd hours Oz, a small China doll and his new monkey butler companion will meet many wonderful creatures and three colour coded witches played by Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams. (And by the power of David Duchovny you best believe Oz will have a crack at all of them too…)
The primary plot revolves around Oz’s ascension to the more commonly known position – that being the land’s chief wizard. Initially he is informed that to prove himself the wizard and become entitled to unlimited riches, all he must do is kill a single witch, yet things become far more complicated than that over time, though not necessarily more entertaining.
Half of the problem stems from the messy script that cannot decide who to label as the bad guy or girl, leading to many characters performing abrupt about faces, often followed by similarly swift redemptions. Pick a bad guy and stick with it Sam. The other half falls in the lap of Mr Franco.
Franco – like Oz – seems quite capable of being more than he is, 127 Hours looms as proof of that. But too often he sits back and smiles his crooked grin as if bemused by the silliness going on around him. If Franco wants to believe that he is ‘better than this’, then stop accepting these roles. Surely the Oscars taught him that?
It is Franco’s awkward interaction with all of the fantasy creatures around him that draws attention to how janky some of the animation is. It is Franco’s indifferent acting that highlights some of the thin moments in the plot. It is Franco’s lack of commitment that proves overall just how lifeless, artificial, unnecessary and uncalled for this film really is.
Oz may triumph using a combination of smoke and mirrors, but ultimately Sam Raimi can make neither Franco nor Oz appear as great as they obviously think they are.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. Oz the good-ish and passable.