“COLLATERAL BEAUTY” My rating: C-
97 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
“Collateral Beauty” starts out as an imaginative riff on that old chestnut “A Christmas Carol.”
Alas, it ends by leaving the audience feeling used and abused.
The latest from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Hope Springs”) stars Will Smith as Howard, the poet/guru of a boutique advertising agency who, in the aftermath of his child’s death, has become a vacant-eyed wraith.
Howard still comes to the office, but he no longer services clients or gives New Age-y pep talks to the staff. Now he devotes his energy to building elaborate domino constructions which he then destroys in gravity-fueled chain reactions.
His partners in the firm — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) — are frantic. With Howard in a funk their business is circling the drain…it’s looking like all they’ll be getting for Christmas are unemployment checks.
So they come up with a desperate — and, BTW, wildly unethical — plan. Learning that Howard has been mailing agonizing letters to Death, Love and Time (you’ve got to wonder what the Post Office does with them), they hire three struggling actors to portray those very concepts.
The idea is to have these “spirits” pop in unexpectedly on Howard. Hopefully these confrontations with the Great Unknown will push him out of his shell of grief and misery.
Hmmm. What possibly could go wrong with an elaborate metaphysical ruse thrust upon a severely depressed individual?
The actors (they’re members of the Hegel Theater Company, which suggests they have struggles of their own) take the job because they need the cash — they’re about to lose the lease on their theater.
The leader and mother hen of the bunch is Brigitte (Helen Mirren), who will embody Death. Amy (Keira Knightley) will approach Howard as Love. Raffi (Jacob Latimore) will perform the role of Time.
Brigitte, played by Mirren as amusing font of actorish ego and process, thinks this could be the performance of her lifetime: “He’s reaching out to the cosmos for answers. We get to be that cosmos.”
Brigitte is such an old ham than when her colleagues question the morality of the gig, she eagerly volunteers to play all three roles.