, Will Smith starts out as a man who believes his own bull****.
We meet him as a smooth New York ad guy, telling his staff that they're not here to sell things, but to "connect". He asks them, "what is your 'why'?". He tells them the only things that matter to people are love, time and death.
Presumably after this little pep/TED talk, they go right back to selling things. Because, three years on, the agency, owned by Smith and partners Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena, is still going. That's despite Smith now being unwilling to communicate with anyone and his working day spent building elaborate domino-toppling arrangements.
He's lost his 6-year-old daughter to a rare disease. He's also lost his marriage. Presumably he's lost his "why" too. But still, he comes into the office to topple dominos, which is a metaphor for ... the fragility of life? His state of collapse? Picking up the pieces? That, if you fell for previous Smith-led mortality-themed weepie
, you'll fall for this one?
Some might. Some might appreciate the Dickensian seasonal spirit that attempts to underpin all this. Or the film's wider, Brit-heavy ensemble which extends to Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Naomie Harris, all in Love, Actually-esque interwoven storylines.
But beneath the Christmas bunting, annoyingly perky supporting turns, Smith switching from sullen moping to angry commuter cyclist, Collateral Beauty manages a rare mix of preposterous, pretentious, and insultingly stupid.
It would be charitable to say it wastes its cast's collective talents. Except, they read the script and still said yes. They had no objections to lines like: "Nothing's ever really dead if you look at it right."
That's from a script in which Smith writes complaining, grieving letters to love, time and death. His agency partners intercept them. They hire actors to play the three abstractions, secretly film Smith in encounters with them replying to his missives, digitally remove the thespians, then show his rantings to prove his mental incompetence. All so they can cash in on a takeover of the business. Because that's what a friend would do.
But the three mean well. And they have their own love-time-death issues which the three struggling theatre actors - Mirren as death, Knightley as love, youngster Jacob Latimore as time - force them to face.
In-between being buttonholed by his imaginary friends, Smith finds himself in a therapy group led by Harris, whose character seems the most grounded. Though it's her burden to explain what "collateral beauty" is.
That title and its meaning are but one more inane touch to this wrong-headed, emotional fake of a film. One with last-minute twists negating much of what has gone before.
Smith may start out as a man who believes his own bull****. He ends up in a movie that drowns him in it.
Verdict: A movie which suggests five stages of grief requires a sixth, entitled "collective idiocy".
Cast: Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley
Director: David Frankel
Rating: M (offensive language) Running time: 96 mins