Kazaam (1996)

25 May


Smith’s Verdict: Half-a-Star

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Kazaam” was to be NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s major starring vehicle, with “Shaq” himself playing, as the marketing suggested, “a rappin’ genie with an attitude…ready for some slam-dunk fun!” This came out the same year as another movie starring another NBA player—“Space Jam” with Michael Jordan. What that movie got right with its iconic figure was to have him actually play the iconic figure. Michael Jordan didn’t have to play a superhero (or a “genie,” for that matter)—he already is one. Here, in “Kazaam,” Shaquille O’Neal is not given the right material to start with—it’s as if the filmmakers took one look at this seven-foot, imposing black man and thought to themselves, “Hey, this guy’s tall, bald, and black—I think he’d make a good genie.”

“Kazaam” is such a deplorable movie. It’s stupid, unimaginative, often unpleasant, and a truly sad excuse for a Shaq vehicle.

Yes, Shaq plays a genie, named Kazaam (isn’t that an odd name for a genie—was “Abra-Cadabra” already taken?). He’s the genie of a magical boombox that is suddenly released by a young city boy named Max. Kazaam is now Max’s slave (I’m not even joking—Max even acknowledges that he “owns” Kazaam) until he grants three wishes for the kid. But meanwhile, he does all right for himself in the city (though where this takes place, I may have missed—maybe New York City? The Bronx? Brooklyn?) and even becomes a hit at a local nightclub as a rapper.

Before I go any further, this needs to be said—Shaq raps even worse than he acts. He has no rhythm, his voice drones monotonously when it should be driving, and his improvised “lyrics” are terrible (“Let’s green-egg-and-ham it!”). And unfortunately, we’re subjected to many sequences in which he raps to impress.

Max (played by Francis Capra), the kid that Kazaam is granting three wishes to, is an unsympathetic little brat. I guess we’re supposed to care for this loathsome little toad because he’s in need of a father figure, and his father is a jerk who is also in the underground pirated-music scene. But Max is irritating and obnoxious all the way through. His interactions with Kazaam mostly consist of showoffish, in-your-face dialogue that gets annoying very fast.

The story is very boring as it goes along with the whole subplot involving Max’s father who is involved in something violent and dangerous involving the latest score. There’s a cassette tape involved that just serves as an uninteresting McGuffin, and there’s also a group of bullies that think they themselves can get rich with it if they grab it themselves. And it gets even more tedious as it goes along.

The special effects that go with Kazaam’s powers aren’t very impressive. They look cheap and not as “magical” as the movie would like to make us believe it is. Notice a flying-bicycle scene that involves a lot of gold-sparks, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Actually, I should probably delete that last sentence, because that would imply that I suggest you check out this movie, which I hope you don’t. It’s hardly worth it.

And about Shaquille O’Neal himself—he’s pretty dull here. I think an acting coach would have done him well (Lord knows he needed one for his free-throws). I think Shaq can be very likeable, and maybe if he had better direction, he would have been the one to save this movie. He’s trying, but he needed to remember that grinning every single minute (just like he did with his TV commercials) doesn’t make one a credible actor. (And again, neither does his rapping-rhyming.) “Kazaam” is a waste of time.

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