Four months after emptying theaters with a stultifying film adaptation of SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, Universal Studios released another ten-ton musical turkey, pretty much killing the genre for a generation or two. The conceit seems doable: retell THE WIZARD OF OZ as an All-Black Urban Fable, but flailing execution from director Sidney (what-am-I-doing-here) Lumet; scripter Joel Schumacher (and you thought BATMAN & ROBIN was my worst credit); lenser Oswald Morris (I think I’ve misplaced my lights!) are painful. And the cast? Diana Ross, miscast as a grown-up Dorothy (her Auntie Em suggests she teach High School to find young men!); Michael Jackson’s Scarecrow, charming but unable to act (with fast spins in place of actual dance routines); and Lena Horne uncomfortably hanging from the Heavens. None of them ever made another feature film. Most shocking of all is how technically crude it looks compared to the 1939 classic, as if film technology had been receding for the last 40 years. Even the sound (from MOTOWN & Quincy Jones) seems disconnected from the image . . . how appropriate.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: While no official credit is given to the 1939 M-G-M film, just the B’way musical and to L. Frank Baum’s original novels, anyone who’s read one of the many OZ books can see that Schumacher’s script gets structure, incident, even some slightly altered dialogue straight from the earlier film. Legally, how’d they get away with it?
DOUBLE-BILL: As noted above, SGT. PEPPER’S. Too bizarrely misconceived to loathe. George Burns as Mr. Kite and an embarrassed Steve Martin in his film debut among the many victims.