Collateral Beauty Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet. Directed by David Frankel. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Barely a few minutes in, Collateral Beauty jumps into its first inspirational speech, courtesy of advertising executive Howard Inlet (Will Smith). Howard talks about time, love and death as the three abstract concepts ruling people’s lives (and thus important in advertising)—and when the movie abruptly cuts to three years later, he’s started writing anguished letters to those concepts that he actually sends in the mail. That’s because during that time jump, Howard’s young daughter died, and he’s been utterly consumed by grief ever since.
Concerned that Howard’s inability to function is dooming their company to failure, Howard’s business partners (played by Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Peña), conceive of an absurd (and rather cruel) plan: They hire three actors (played by Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore) to pose as embodiments of the concepts Howard has been writing to, in order to shake him from his stupor (and have him declared unfit to run the company). From this convoluted and somewhat insulting premise come a bunch of sappy greeting-card sentiments, with each of Howard’s partners learning convenient lessons that match up neatly to the big concepts. Howard, too, learns and grows, courtesy of a shameless twist that hinges on withholding basic information from viewers. Howard never blames his partners for their emotional manipulation, and the movie expects the same unreasonable indulgence from its audience.