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COLLATERAL BEAUTY: 1 ½ STARS. “a downer look at the worst of human behaviour.”

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-12-47-06-pm“Collateral Beauty” tries desperately to be a feel good movie, but is really a feel bad flick. Or maybe it’s just a bad movie about the intersection where grief and greed cross.

When we first meet Howard Inlet (Will Smith) he’s a charismatic advertising kingpin giving his employees a pep talk that could raise the dead. He’s an inspiring figure but just three years later, after the death of his six-year-old daughter, he becomes despondent dude who sees his life, his time on the planet, as a prison sentence. He barely says a word, spending his days at work making giant domino mazes. Without his leadership the company hits hard times.

Fortunately his partners, best friend Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña), have a great offer that would see them all make a fortune. Unfortunately Howard, who owns sixty percent of the company, does not want to sell.

Determined to make the deal happen Howard’s three friends and partners conspire against him. When a private investigator discovers Howard spends his nights practising self-therapy, writing angry letters to the abstractions of Time, Love and Death, they concoct a plan to use the notes against him. “Howard is not in a good mental state,” says Whit. “It’s about underlining that fact so others can see it.

To that end they hire three actors, Raffi (Jacob Latimore), Aimee (Keira Knightley) and Brigitte (Helen Mirren) to personify Time, Love and Death. They are to approach Howard as the private eye video tapes them. Later they will digitally remove the actors and use the tapes to prove that Howard is not mentally fit to run the company. Bingo, bango they get their deal while Howard is left tormented by what he thinks must be bereavement hallucinations.

There’s more but that is the conceit fuelling “Collateral Beauty’s” story and therein lies the film’s main problem. It’s a really weird and not very nice idea. Watching Howard’s sad sack friends plotting against him while trying to convince one another—and us—that they are doing this for his own good is a singularly unpleasant experience. A little bit of nastiness at the holidays is never unwelcome. “It’s a Wonderful Life” has an undercurrent of meanness that nicely offsets the saccharine aspects of the story and it works. Here the characters grasp for justification of their awful behaviour and the film allows them to get away with it.

Layer that with a healthy dollop of pop psychology—“Nothing’s ever really dead if you look at it right.”—that rides the line between inane and inaner and you have a film that wants to be inspiring holiday fare but is instead a downer look at some of the worst of human behaviour.

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