“Collateral Beauty” should win some kind of award for Best Execution of a Dreadful Concept. Chock-a-block with magnetic movie stars and beautifully shot, it looks important and meaningful. But it’s all smoke and mirrors. Stars and cinematography can’t save the story, a misguided tale filled with armchair philosophizing and meaningless twists.
To explain the premise feels like spoiling the movie, but, seriously, you gotta hear this. Will Smith plays Howard, an advertising executive who gives inspiring but empty speeches to his staff, demanding “what is your why?” and blabbing about the “three abstractions” of love, time and death.
The death of his child sends him into a downward spiral, until he’s nearly catatonic, leading a life of angry bicycling, extensive domino set ups, and letter writing to love, time and death. This regime is not great for business, so his partners (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena) decide to shake down his majority voting shares by proving he’s mentally incompetent. They hire a private eye (Ann Dowd) and the strangest theater company of all time, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Amy (Keira Knightley) and Raffi (Jacob Latimore) to pretend to be the three abstractions and confront Howard on the street.
There’s never any real definition of “collateral beauty,” just some vague aphorisms that “we are all connected.” But the movie, obsessed with its own twists and inane mysticism, robs the meaning from that idea. If the film explored how strangers and loved ones managed to overcome emotional obstacles and learn things from each other, that would be poignant. Instead we have a demented tapestry of bizarre interactions and strange choices that results in a bigger picture that reveals nothing.
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Perhaps the idea was half-baked from the get-go, or maybe the film was edited within an inch of its life and lost all meaning. Whatever the case, “Collateral Beauty” is more shallow nonsense than anything else.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language. 1:37. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.