What I keep hearing in my head is: Escape from Oz. I had no trouble keeping the title straight before I saw the film. But apparently the mere act of watching — and it was pretty mere — has infected me with a desire to be somewhere else.
Oz the Great and Powerful? More like The Bland and the Mediocre. Turns out the man behind the curtain is even smaller and less mighty than Dorothy had discovered in the Emerald City. Turns out the tale of how the man became the man behind the curtain is a static, perfunctory one, a same-old "you're better than you think you are" cliché. Perhaps it will amuse or surprise very small children, unless they, too, have seen the 1939 Wizard of Oz, which this oddly attempts to imitate rather than complement.
Kansas circus magician Oscar Diggs gets swept into the land of Oz, where he acquires a collection of oddball sidekicks and has to defeat an evil witch. The script is suffering from a bad case of fan-fiction-itis, or the itch to tell the audience things we never realized until right now that we never really needed to know.
Lest you were under the impression that this is based on something L. Frank Baum had written, it isn't. And screenwriters Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire appear to have little to add that would expand the world of the World War II-era film beyond a bizarre notion that a man with no actual magical ability at all — that would be Oscar Diggs — could be more powerful than the two genuine witches who enlist him to fight their wicked sister witch, who rules Oz cruelly.
If only Oscar were a more complicated or conflicted man! Even the usually intriguing James Franco flounders while trying to inject some life into the flimsiest sort of stereotype of a con man.
The film only truly comes alive in a pair of moments that echo each other, in which Oscar is forced to face the ineffectiveness of his own flim-flammery. Then it's back to his by-the-numbers "transformation" into a man who's infinitesimally better than he was before.
It's a measure of how relentlessly flat the film is emotionally that Franco's performance is probably exactly what director Sam Raimi was looking for. Because it's hard to see that this was intended as a story so much as an advertisement for the inevitable Oz the Great and Powerful ride at Disney World.
The ride's gonna be amazing! There'll be a hot-air balloon ride down a waterfall and a steampunk picture show! You'll enter down the yellow-brick road, of course, and you will be greeted by a flying monkey. It looks like it'll be fun. A Method depiction of a con man's crisis of self-confidence would distract from that.