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Smith Rocks As Genie

Saturday, May 25, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Guy Ritchie
Cast: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, and others
Rating: * * *

There’s a whole generation of moviegoers, who remember Disney’s animated Aladdin (1992), and a generation that has not seen it. Guy Ritchie was probably given the unenviable task of recreating that old magic in live action for the latter group of smartphone junkies. There is no other reason for a remake of a near-perfect film, in which Robin Williams voiced Genie with an infectious sense of fun.

Ritchie’s film is big, splashy, colourful, CGI-soaked, with riotous Bollywood-style song-and-dance numbers, but not half as enjoyable. What the new film does, however, in keeping with the times, is make Princess Jasmine into a sort of feminist, who wants to be the Sultan of Agrabah (sultan pronounced to sound like suntan). And again, in the spirit of the current demand for inclusivity, the cast is brown-skinned-- not white with fake tans.

Aladdin is played by a blandly good-looking Mena Massoud, the pick-pocketing “street rat” with a pet monkey called Abu. He runs into Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott), who has disguised herself as a palace maid to mingle with the people she hopes to rule with a pet tiger by her side. While escaping guards, Aladdin and Abu take Jasmine on a spin through the alleys of Agrabah, and suddenly all the princes she has already rejected, seem even more hopeless, now that she has met the super-agile hero.

The Sultan (Navid Negahban) is unaware that his evil wazir Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), with a wicked pet bird called Iago, as a sidekick, wants to grab his throne. He needs the help of a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders, but only a “diamond in the rough” is allowed to get in. Jafar hasn’t found the right one till Aladdin turns up.

Aladin is trapped in the cave, with a helpful magic carpet, till he manages to release a blue-skinned Genie (Will Smith) and gets three wishes. Who doesn’t know what happens next!

Genie is given the full force of special effects, wise-cracking wit, and two of the most memorable songs – Friend Like Me and Prince Ali (from the original). Smith gives the role all he’s got and even carries off the ridiculous get-ups with panache. Genie is supposed to have the power to make his master’s wishes come true, but Smith lifts the film with his cheeky turn, as he helps Aladdin woo the princess and defeat Jafar.

The film ticks all the familiar plot points, and tries to go for spectacular, since the budget permits it, but it still looks like Ritchie’s heart isn’t in it. His Aladdin could have created a Whole New World, but chose a deliberately déjà vu approach.

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