While I knew that Genie wasn't going to be anything too groundbreaking or unpredictable, I didn't realise that it was simply a remake of Bernard And The Genie, a 1991 TV movie starring Alan Cumming and Lenny Henry. And I doubt many others will realise it, considering how many people seem to have forgotten all about the original version of the tale.
Paapa Essiedu plays Bernard, a man who is about to have a miserable Christmas when his wife (Julie, played by Denée Benton) decides that they need a break. Bernard just seems to be too busy and inconsiderate, so she leaves, taking their young daughter, Eve (Jordyn McIntosh), with her. Bernard wants to fix things, and he wants to ensure that he and his daughter enjoy quality time together, but that is easier said than done. Things might get a lot easier, however, when Bernard accidentally released a genie (Melissa McCarthy). And there isn’t just three wishes to be granted. Oh no, you can have as many wishes as you like. But wishes have consequences, especially if you decide to do something like decorate your apartment with the Mona Lisa.
This should have been an imaginative and fun flight of fancy, especially as it seems to be a second go at the concept for writer Richard Curtis. I may be entirely wrong, although he is also listed here as a producer, but this appears to have been made precisely because Curtis realised he could get some star power and a bigger budget to showcase his central concept. Director Sam Boyd, helming only his second feature, feels like a hired hand, someone who will simply enable Curtis to get his words onscreen in the way he prefers.
There’s nothing here that works as well as it should though, with both the humour and the heart falling a bit flat. In fact, this struggles to improve upon the first version of this tale, especially when it doesn’t have the excuse of being a smaller production made for British television.
Essiedu is a bright spot, playing his character with the right mix of bewilderment and acceptance, and he is easy to root for when things start to go wrong. McCarthy is also very enjoyable, although she gives a performance here that isn’t going to win over any detractors. I like her onscreen presence, and always tend to enjoy her performances. Benton and McIntosh are fine, the former doing the essential job of providing the biggest obstacle that our lead has to overcome on his journey of personal growth, and there are very welcome supporting roles for Marc Maron (playing a concierge who takes a liking to the genie) and Luis Guzmán (a cop who ends up perplexed by an international incident).
Undemanding viewers will find enough to enjoy here, but only just. Someone should have really forced Curtis to sit down and work with someone who could improve the material, but the cast all do well enough in roles that don’t call for subtlety (and it’s particularly fun to see Alan Cumming, who played the original Bernard, being the mean boss this time around) and there are brief moments that have that pleasing sensation of Christmas magic. Very brief, but they are there.
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