It's near impossible to make a movie with no redeeming features – but damned if Collateral Beauty doesn't hit the zero-stars jackpot. The unholy mess that director David Frankel and screenwriter Allan Loeb have unleashed for the holidays strands an all-star cast – including Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton and Keira Knightley – on a sinking ship that churns the waters from absurd to zombified with frequent stops at pretentious.
Our condolences to Smith, who has the most screen time and is therefore open to the most ridicule. He plays Howard, a charming ad exec who loses the will to live when struck by tragedy – specifically, the death of a child. Norton, Winslet and Michael Peña play the friends and co-workers who can't get through to Howard; they worry that he's going to put his company and their jobs out of business. He's so bereft, in fact, that he writes letters to Love, Death and Time, finding concepts easier to deal with than people. Too bad he didn't text the concept of Awful and learn to stop with this stupid, sentimental swill.
Mirren, Knightley and young Jacob Latimore play the characters that Howard encounters on his soggy way. It's all very Christmas Carol, minus the warmth, wonder and genius of Dickens. I can't say more without risking spoilers. Back when Howard ruled the ad world, he used to ask the question: "What is your why?" – certainly another good reason to hate him. After seeing Collateral Beauty, my "why" is to warn you off the time-and-money suck of this cinematic equivalent of coal and wood. It's enough to make Scrooges of us all.