1996, PG, 103 min. Directed by Paul M. Glaser. Starring Shaquille O'Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, Marshall Manesh, James Acheson, Fawn Reed, John Costelloe.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 19, 1996
“He's tall. That doesn't mean he's interesting,” says a character in Kazaam who, nevertheless, is definitely interested in the big genie played by basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal. That may be all you need to know about this new Touchstone (an arm of Disney) picture – the latest in a growing line of movies from that studio in which popular sports figures have found new homes in Hollywood. (It seems, also, that these sports stars come to the table with ample product-placement bucks from their various corporate endorsements.) My grumpiness may have something to do with the knowledge that these same folks will soon require me to sit through another Mighty Ducks sequel … really, things are getting out of hand. Sure, many sports figures have successfully transferred their celebrity from the playing field to the silver screen, but, currently, Hollywood seems to be suffering from a rampant case of mistaking “tall” for “interesting.” That said, O'Neal is really not half-bad in his feature film debut as the genie Kazaam. Yet when surrounded by an “all-bad” movie, “not half-bad” is hardly good enough. The story, centering on 12-year-old Max (Capra) and his troubles at home and with the bullies at school, is murky and unpleasant. Max doesn't want his single mom (Walker) to remarry and goes off to find his biological father (Acheson), who split when Max was two. Dad turns out to be a heel who doesn't even recognize Max (something which seemed to audibly disturb several kids in the audience). Fortunately, the school bullies chases Max into an abandoned building where their jostling unleashes a genie trapped in a boombox, so Max now has some ancient magic working to smooth out the rough edges in his life. Of course, Kazaam is no ordinary genie; he's a rapping genie, thus much of his dialogue is delivered in rhyme, although the music portions are distractingly dubbed due to lip-synching blips. And when you get right down to it, it's the shoddy workmanship that passes for finished product that annoys me most about Kazaam. It's full of special effects that are big on smoke and noise, but short on logic and payoff. Scenes are sloppily edited, as if to imply that lower standards can acceptably be palmed off on kiddie audiences. O'Neal handles light comedy decently enough to expect that we'll see more pictures from him in the future, and love interest Fawn Reed as Asia Moon is a real discovery for me and I look forward to seeing more of her. Otherwise, I have to draw the line at Kazaam.