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Collaterally Damaged Movie

Will Smith
Will Smith
Waner Brothers
 97 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by:  David Frankel
Starring: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren
Collateral Beauty

The tragic events of this last week surrounding the deaths of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher underscore the very real effects of grief, especially in the loss of a long-time loved one. For that reason alone, Collateral Beauty, released less than two weeks before those actresses’ deaths, might have been a profound, insightful look at the difficulties a parent faces in coping with the loss of a child. To be fair, those insights are present, hidden away in scattered bits and pieces, within Collateral Beauty. But they are surrounded by such huge amounts of nonsensical plot contrivances that what might have been genuinely moving becomes a bizarre cross between Gaslight and A Christmas Carol.


The grieving parent in Collateral Beauty is Howard Inlet (Will Smith), a former ad agency hot shot who, since the death of his six-year-old daughter from a rare form of cancer, has been reduced to a shell of his former self. He spends most of his time either in a near catatonic state or peddling furiously on a bicycle in the middle of the night, and the only activity that interests him is constructing hugely elaborate sculptures from dominoes that he topples over when he finishes.


Howard’s behavior has caused the agency’s business to plummet, and his anxious partners want to accept a buyout bid from a major conglomerate. However, Howard controls the company’s voting stock and, without his consent, the sale won’t go through. So, rather than just trying to get Howard into therapy, one of the partners, Whit (Edward Norton) comes up with a scheme so outlandishly weird it could only have sprung from the mind of a hack screenwriter. Whit hires a private detective who breaks into a mailbox and discovers that, as a coping mechanism, Howard is sending letters to Love, Time, and Death. So Whit persuades three struggling actors (Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, and Helen Mirren, respectively) to portray the three mythic concepts and go around talking to Howard. All the while, Whit has other detectives surreptitiously filming the encounters and digitally removing all traces of the actors so it will appear Howard is completely loony, allowing the partners to have Howard declared incompetent.


Whit’s partners, Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena), have misgivings about this plan, but they reluctantly go along because they have problems of their own. Claire wants to have a baby before her biological clock runs out, and Simon’s clock is about to run out in a different way—he has terminal cancer. Whit also has problems; he’s divorced because he cheated on his wife, and now his daughter won’t even talk to him.


Perhaps Charles Dickens or Patrick Hamilton (the author of Angel Street, the play on which Gaslight is based) could have made a decent melodrama out of this mess, but David Frankel, director of Collateral Beauty, was working from a script by Allan Loeb, best known for the Kevin James UFC effort, Here Comes the Boom. This movie might actually have turned out better had Will Smith gone a couple of rounds in the octagon with Edward Norton. Instead, the movie veers wildly from one emotion to another, with Loeb looking to tug at the heartstrings with each character having his or her own share of problems, while conveniently forgetting that they are trying to make their partner look certifiably insane.


Surprisingly, there is a grounded, somewhat realistic story hidden in the middle of all the chaos in Collateral Beauty. When he’s not riding his bike or building domino sculptures, Howard actually stops in at for some meetings of a support group for parents who have lost their children. The leader of the group, a tremendously understanding and sympathetic woman named Melanie (Naomie Harris), recognizes Howard’s grief and tries to involve him in the group, but Howard is unwilling even to say his dead daughter’s name or acknowledge the details of her illness.


The scenes involving Howard and Melanie seem as if they have come from a completely different movie from the rest of Collateral Beauty. Strange as it may seem when discussing a supporting cast that’s chock full of Oscar winners and nominees, the movie would have been far better off without them, simply concentrating on Melanie’s efforts to help Howard. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to see where that relationship might be heading, but Harris and Smith have a charming low-key chemistry together that pays off in scenes in which she begins spending more time with Howard, trying to draw him out.


Unfortunately for the audience, Loeb and Frankel are unwilling to let that relationship continue to develop. Instead, they opt for a big confrontation scene with corporate lawyers playing recordings of Howard arguing in thin air, followed by not one, but two twist endings. The endings are supposed to brighten up the audience’s spirits, which admittedly could use some cheering up after a largely ridiculous first two acts. But, instead, they cheapen whatever genuine emotion the movie has managed to engender.


While Collateral Beauty is a mediocre movie, it is a very well acted movie, especially by Mirren, who is a delight as the actress pretending to be death. Let’s just say that Death has never looked so lively before. Also, Smith gives his all in his role and once again shows that he is one of the more underrated serious dramatic actors around. Sadly, the rest of the cast has very little to work with in highly clichéd roles.


Collateral Beauty could have been an effective and moving meditation on the effects of grief, as a father begins to seek help from a support group in dealing with his problem. Instead, the filmmakers apparently thought they could turn this into a new Christmas classic by the introduction of the most bizarre set of non-merry elements I can recall. Those elements prove to be as dead as Marley at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, and the result is a sizable “bah humbug” for the audience.

In this scene, Will Smith meets Helen Mirren for the first time.

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Collateral Beauty (2016) on IMDb