Kazaam full movie review - Kazaam
"Let's green egg and ham it." I was only seven years old when Kazaam was released into theaters, starring Shaquille O'Neal as the eponymous enchanter.
And to this day I am truly grateful that my parents never took me to see this magical mishap of a motion picture two decades later. Back in the 90s when Shaq was at the height (no pun intended) of his professional career with the NBA, Los Angels Lakers and doing several Reebok or Pepsi commercials, his film appearances, especially as a main character, proved to be disastrous. The tag line on the VHS and DVD cover or what have you reads: "He's a rappin' genie-with-an-attitude...and he's ready for slam-dunk fun!" I as the viewer greatly disapproved. Even the Los Angeles Daily News didn't know what to say, so they just slapped "FUN!" on the cover in big capitalized yellow letters. Nonetheless, I would taken away the 'N'. With a budget of $20 million, only earning back $18.9 million in return, it also obtained a six percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on thirty-three reviews, and a twenty-four out of one hundred on Metacritic. So why did this family fantasy flop so hard? Let's take a look.
The film promptly opens on a swinging wrecking ball knocking down a dilapidated building in New York City; a perfect metaphor. A final swing knocks Kazaam's lamp in slow motion onto a boombox that just happens to be there as we hear him screaming. And how fitting to see director Paul M. Glaser's (David Starsky from the Starsky & Hutch TV show) name appearing over the sound of breaking pottery. That sound effect alone sums up the rest of the movie indefinitely. We then meet Max Connor (Francis Capra), a twelve-year-old kid on the run from a local gang of bullies, who chase him into the said building being demolished. Max accidentally kicks the boombox and unknowingly awakens the 5,000 year-old genie just as the bullies find him. Kazaam scares them away with his so-called rapping. Max later goes home to Alice (Ally Walker). She is a single Mom of whom she and her son don't exactly see eye to eye, especially since she's seeing a fireman named Travis (John Costelloe, of whom was an actual FDNY firefighter in real life and played Jim "Johnny Cakes" Witowski on The Sopranos). Kazaam later explains to the troubled youth, of whom at first wants nothing to do with him, that he can grant him three wishes. From telling Max that he doesn't "believe in fairy tales" to even taking a shower in front of Max in his own bedroom singing an almost unrecognizable rendition of Stayin' Alive...its just a mess.
Eventually the tough Max warms up to Kazaam and starts to believe what he says when he causes mountains of junk food to rain down from the heavens. He also realizes that he owns the towering turban-wearing thaumaturge until he makes his last two wishes. Of course what Max really wants is to get to know his estranged father (James Acheson), of whom left him when he was two. He sets out to find him, only to discover that he is a musical talent producer of which the cause of his success is specializing in unauthorized music. Kazaam forgets about Max once the boy's father takes a liking to him as a new possible rap talent as he tries his hand at a music career at his nightclub. But the sleazy villainous club owner Malik (Marshell Manesh), wants Kazaam for his own, and it is only the final wish, from the heart, that Max wishes that his Dad would be given a second chance at life as Kazaam personally deals with the Malik and his cronies. Hereafter, Max then accepts Travis as a new father figure.
Kazaam is really one of those good/bad movies that emerged in the 90s. It was good because it was and still is a fairly harmless family film, but bad because it has over time gained attention since its release for its absurd concept and Shaquille O'Neal's performance, making it a critical and financial failure. It also caused Paul M. Glaser to never direct another film since due to negative reviews on his work. Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 stars, writing: "Shaq has already proved he can act (in Blue Chips, the 1994 movie about college basketball). Here he shows he can be likable in a children's movie. What he does not show is good judgment in his choice of material. [...] the filmmakers didn't care to extend themselves beyond the obvious commercial possibilities of their first dim idea." In a 2012 interview with GQ magazine, O'Neal said, "I was a medium-level juvenile delinquent from Newark who always dreamed about doing a movie. Someone said, 'Hey, here's $7 million, come in and do this genie movie.' What am I going to say, no? So I did it." Though more suited in appearing as a film cameo, Shaq's last leading role would be in the following year as John Henry Irons/Steel in the critically-acclaimed box office bomb 'Steel', nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Actor.
If Kazaam is wishful thinking in the power to begin anew, than it should have stayed bottled up and lost for one-thousand and one nights deep beneath the sands of the Arabian desert. The film is innocuous but its demise is that it is solely based on and crafted from a mix of genre clichés. Kazaam lacks imaginative stamina and, compared with Shaq's larger-than-life charisma, the film does not know what it wants to be either due to stifled, routine filmmaking and terrible rapping. Nowadays the movie is just a guilty pleasure for millennials to riff or poke fun at. My wish for you is that you never buy or rent Kazaam and see this jolly black giant on your television screen anytime soon.