The 400-Word Review: Collateral Beauty

By Sean Collier

December 14, 2016

Quit calling me Your Majesty.

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The A-list status of Will Smith, endangered for a decade, could finally be destroyed by Collateral Beauty, a laughably bad drama from frequent director of bland fare David Frankel. It’s not just that the film is an utter dud (though it definitely is); it’s that Smith’s performance, while overwrought, is flat at best.

I’m not going to make a “Fresh Prince has gone stale” joke, but — oh wait. Guess I did.

Howard (Smith) runs a thriving Manhattan ad agency with close friends Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña). After the death of his daughter — which happens offscreen, so the hack screenplay by Allan Loeb has stuff to reveal down the line — he recedes into depression, showing up at work only to compulsively set up and topple rows of dominoes.

Yes, I’m still describing a real movie.

His friends fear that the company will go under if Howard continues to sour relationships and fail to complete non-domino tasks. They need to demonstrate that he’s no longer fit to make decisions. But how, they wonder as if the whole domino thing were not happening in full view of everyone? And thus, after a private investigator breaks into a mailbox where Howard has dropped a plot device — sorry, a series of letters — a harebrained scheme is hatched.


They’ll hire a trio of actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore) to pretend to be embodiments of Death, Love and Time, respectively, and then when Howard starts acting all crazy, talking to these abstract concepts, they’ll capture it on video, digitally remove the actors and have the proof they need!

Yes, I’m still describing a real movie.

Oh, and in their spare time, the hired actors will also repair Whit’s relationship with his six-year-old daughter, convince Claire to live her life more fully and help Simon admit to his family that he’s suffering from cancer. All this in 90 minutes that feels like a day and a half!

When Collateral Beauty makes sense, it’s cloying and desperate. When it doesn’t, it’s pathetically illogical and frustratingly stupid.

And at its center is Smith, giving a dreadful turn that calls into question not only his ability to carry a film but his ability to interpret a script. This was once one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars; it’ll take some serious reinvention for him to get there again.

My Rating: 1/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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