Smith-led 'Collateral Beauty' a laughable waste of its cast

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Maybe I'm spoiled this time of year as a critic, or maybe beauty is just in the eye of the beholder.

But amid all the year-end Oscar bait, "Collateral Beauty" stands out, and not in a good way. Boasting a cast with a combined 18 Oscar nominations and a coveted December (aka prime award contender season) release, I expected more than a 94-minute eye roll.

Howard (Will Smith) is a New York advertising executive whose life is in a tailspin after he's struck by a personal tragedy. He passes time at work in a haze, barely speaking to coworkers while building elaborate domino setups in the office for some reason.

The other partners in his firm (Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña) are concerned that Howard's check-out is affecting business, and he's the lone holdout on a large offer to buy the firm.

A chance meeting with Amy (Keira Knightley), an actress auditioning for a commercial at the firm, leads to two more actors (Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore) and a truly bizarre plan.

In his grief, Howard has written letters to the concepts of Love, Time and Death. Howard's partners decide the trio of actors should play personifications of this trio in a bizarre kind ofChristmas Carol twist.

Obviously, "Beauty" boasts a casts worthy of attention. What's less obvious is how they landed this cast with a sappy, half-baked script and a sentiment that tries to be deep but comes off like a Hallmark Channel movie.

Director David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Marley & Me") is working from a script that strains logic and contains more side plots and loose ends than one would expect in such a short running time. Not that I wanted this movie to be any longer.

That all-star cast is game for whatever, including a fair amount of comedic moments that cut against the melodrama. Smith spends most of the film brooding, and it's hard to see Helen Mirren go to waste.

Then there's a concluding reveal that is meant to be deep and left me literally muttering profanities under my breath.

Perhaps this is best thought of as agreeable adult fluff for families trying to pick a holiday movie. Against the far better offerings currently in theaters (see "Manchester by the Sea"), it's hard to see much beauty here.

"Collateral Beauty"

Opens Thursday

1 star out of 4