Melissa McCarthy cannot rescue a very different type of movie from Love Actually writer Richard Curtis.
Plot: With his job, life and family unraveling around him, a despondent Bernard dusts off a jewelry box and unintentionally releases genie Flora, who just might be able to help him. Maybe. It’s a longshot, frankly. In the process, Flora and Bernard will discover that love, and an unexpected friendship, can unleash a special holiday magic all its own.
Review: Christmastime is here, once again, and that means a bevy of new holiday-themed films meant to evoke the Yuletide spirit while getting audiences to shell out their money and time towards new projects of all kinds. Hedging their bets that viewers will be swayed by the name recognition of Richard Curtis, the writer of Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, Peacock is launching their new film, Genie, over the Thanksgiving holiday. Genie, a remake of Curtis’ 1991 BBC television movie Bernard and the Genie, is a family-friendly comedy set in New York City and checks all of the boxes for a formulaic Christmas movie, including magic, presents, and a redemption story for a main character in need of a miracle. Even with Melissa McCarthy doing her thing, Genie fails to rise above much more than ninety minutes of things we have seen before.
Genie follows Bernard Bottle (Paapa Essiedu), an art appraiser at a prestigious auction house. Bernard is chronically late for important events in his life, including the birthday of his daughter, Eve (Jordyn McIntosh), thanks to his demanding boss, Mr. Flaxman (Alan Cumming), forcing him to work late. Bernard’s wife Julie (Denee Benton), no longer able to cope with his detachment from her and their family, decides to take a break from her husband and goes to her mother’s home. Left alone, Bernard rubs an antique box, which releases Flora (Melissa McCarthy), a genie who grants unlimited wishes. By pushing away from the formulaic rules of cinematic genies, Flora has no limit on what she can give Bernard short of forcing Julie and Eve to return to him. What follows is more of a fairy godmother tale as Flora helps Bernard become a better person, hoping to reconcile his family for the Christmas season.
Running a brisk ninety-three minutes, Genie mines similar territory to Will Ferrell’s perennial Christmas favorite, Elf, in showing the fish-out-of-water Flora as she learns about modern society in the two thousand years since an evil sorcerer imprisoned her. This includes the bits in the trailer that show Melissa McCarthy eating hand sanitizer, dancing to Bubba Sparxxx, and relating that she personally knew Jesus Christ before he was the Son of God. There is also a bit in the trailer showing Bernard wishing for the Mona Lisa to replace his framed Lionel Messi jersey, which turns into a more significant subplot over the course of the film. Much of Genie is focused on the danger of wishes and how asking for certain things can be more dangerous than you might think. It also relies on the physical proximity of Bernard and Flora to use wishes when they get into a bind. The chemistry between Melissa McCarthy and Paapa Essiedu works from his straight-laced British demeanor versus her manic and chaotic personality, but this story has an underlying sweetness.
Also key to the story is Marc Maron as Bernard’s doorman, Lenny, who has some interest in Flora. We also have Luis Guzman as Detective Perez, who investigates Bernard for the theft of the Mona Lisa. There are a few other fun little surprises, many of which play like distinct vignettes rather than pushing the plot in any concrete direction. I especially enjoyed Flora’s love of Tom Cruise movies featuring him running as well as Alan Cumming’s brief appearance, a call-back to the original Bernard and the Genie in which Cumming portrayed the role of Bernard. With so much of the film spent with Flora and Bernard, I hoped their dynamic would evolve over the course of the movie. Still, it instead just keeps repeating the same style of jokes repeatedly before reaching an expected and safe ending that you likely saw coming from the beginning of the film.
Directed by Sam Boyd in his feature debut, Genie does not feel much like a Richard Curtis project. The acclaimed screenwriter is known for his mature and complex comedies, something completely missing in this film. The original version of Bernard and the Genie was far darker and involved murdered police officers and adultery, concepts devoid from this PG-rated bore. Denee Benton, who is excellent in HBO’s The Gilded Age, is stuck in a stereotypical role as a wife who loves her husband and yet constantly talks about pulling further away. It feels strange how this film is structured as the humor is broad and silly, whereas the drama desperately wants emotional resonance, but neither really clicks the way it should. The movie is at once not enough of a Christmas movie to warrant the holiday theme nor is it funny enough to really be a general comedy.
In the annals of Christmas movies, Genie barely registers. Despite an aim to be for all ages, there is not enough in this movie to entertain younger audiences and the rest of the humor rests on Melissa McCarthy’s trademark schtick. Once that wears thin, Genie does not amount to much more than a redemption story for a decent man who is just chronically late. That is far from a worthwhile enough tale to tell. The special effects here are also so poorly conceived, including an atrocious flying carpet segment, that there is no real reason to check this movie out. While Curtis’ original 1991 film was a commentary on the commercialization of Christmas, this Genie does not have anything to say other than to make sure you are not late for important moments in your life. And don’t eat hand sanitizer.