‘Oz’ disappoints with weak acting and slow story

by David Dixon

There are many reasons why “Oz the Great and Powerful” could have been an extraordinary fantasy adventure. Not only is it a prequel to the classic book and film, but it’s directed by Sam Raimi, the man responsible for the “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” trilogies. Unfortunately, this origin story suffers many flaws from people both behind and in front of the camera.

Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a greedy magician working at a traveling circus in the early 20th century. One day, a strongman (Tim Holmes) tries to attack him after learning Oscar had an affair with his girlfriend. Oscar escapes his perilous situation by getting away in a hot air balloon, but is then sucked into a deadly tornado. He survives and enters the magical world of Oz.

I have to give credit to Raimi for including many personal touches throughout Oscar’s journey. Similar to his most recent movies, Raimi has a visually astounding opening credit sequence, a good amount of humor, moments to make viewers jump out of their seats and an extended cameo from “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell.

He clearly cares about author L. Frank Baum’s universe and features plenty of references to the original story, including a Yellow Brick Road and a musical number with singing and dancing Munchkins. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to make up for the fact that the plot moves at a very slow pace.

It’s clear early on that David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner’s script could have been tightened. The ongoing action doesn’t move events along as much as they symbolize parallels between Oscar’s old life in Kansas and his new one in Oz. While this worked beautifully in the original motion picture, this isn’t as effective here and can actually be boring to experience.

Screen time mostly goes to four main cast members. Sadly, two of the performances are wildly inconsistent.

Franco can be a very strong actor and has played over-the-top roles in the past, as evidenced in “Pineapple Express.” However, in “Oz,” he tries so hard to be a selfish con artist, he comes off as being an obnoxious jerk.

He’s actually better exploring Oscar’s more sensitive side, whether bonding with the hilarious flying monkey, Finley (Zach Braff) or a talking doll named China Girl (Joey King). I wished this part of Oscar’s personality was featured more than his egotistical narcissism.

Mila Kunis is also disappointing as Theodora, a witch who falls in love with Oscar. She does a good job in her early encounters with Franco, but she spends most of her later scenes screaming almost all of her dialogue and making her character so two-dimensional it’s hard to take her seriously.

Rachel Weisz is a lot more menacing as Evanora and really nails being truly despicable, an attribute one doesn’t usually associate with Weisz. Whether she’s commanding evil monkeys to fly or controlling Theodora’s life, it’s fun watching Evanora be so devilishly wicked.

Michelle Williams continues her winning streak of wonderful performances as Glinda, the good witch. With so much warmth and charisma, the three-time Oscar nominated actress creates interest throughout in the tale whenever she is on screen.

There are rumors of a potential sequel to “Oz the Great and Powerful” sometime in the future. If this is true, hopefully it will be more satisfying than this unfocused and unevenly acted missed opportunity.