“Collateral Beauty” is a pretty terrible movie, but it left me with one overarching thought: My life, and surely yours, too, would be vastly improved if only Helen Mirren were perpetually lurking nearby, offering advice. She does this in the movie, playing a self-absorbed but undeniably wise actress who swans around in blue feather boas telling people what to do. I’m having a pleasant time procrastinating this morning, imagining her in my cubicle with suggestions on how to improve my desk, hair and general outlook.
But Dame Helen’s not here right now, so it falls to me to tell you that “Collateral Beauty,” a movie so earnest it almost has Tom Cruise in it, misses its mark by a mile, stranding an impressive cast who you’d think would have better things to do. Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris and Keira Knightley are among those joining Mirren in this tale of a grieving ad guy named Howard (Smith) who can’t get past the death of his young daughter two years ago. His supposed pals at work, worried that Howard’s slacking is affecting the company’s bottom line, launch a plan that just might qualify for Worst Idea Ever: Hire actors (!) to follow him around (!) and pretend to be Love, Time and Death (!), three abstractions to whom Howard has been writing letters (!) when he’s not busy playing dominoes in his office.
I know. It’s amusing for a while, watching these very talented people trying to sell this plot (Winslet, in particular, just looks worried all the time, as well she might). But after some time, too many questions take over: Why are these actors rehearsing a play that will apparently never be performed? Why does Winslet’s character leave sperm-donor brochures out on her desk? Does anyone at this ad agency ever do any work? Did I actually just hear the line “Nothing is ever really dead if you look at it right”? Dame Helen, what are you doing in this thing? “Collateral Beauty” is about an hour and a half long; it feels, despite the good company, like a lifetime.