Film review: Kazaam

Orlando center is engaging at times in this unpleasant and unfunny comedy.

Published: Saturday, July 20 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Oh well, at least NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal can still tell people he made his big-screen debut in "Blue Chips."

O'Neal has the extreme misfortune of being the big name associated with "Kazaam," an unpleas- ant and severely unfunny comedy that tries to be part "Aladdin" and part "Angels in the Outfield." Unfortunately, it's not even as good as the latter film.

Starring as the title character, a 3,000-year-old genie who claims to have destroyed Pompeii (at his master's command, of course), O'Neal is the best thing about the film and that's not really saying much. Shaq is engaging enough when he's trying to be goofy, but when he actually tries to act . . . let's just say he's a better free-throw shooter than an actor.

Kazaam is out to help Max Conner (Francis Capra from "Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home"), a 12-year-old coping with the impending divorce of his parents, including his father, Nicholas Matteo (James Acheson), whom he hasn't seen for 10 years.

The rusty genie tells Max he can only give him three "material" wishes (more "ethereal" wishes like love can only be granted by "djinns"). Of course, the streetwise Max doesn't believe in magic and doesn't want his help even after he finds out Kazaam is for real.

Eventually, Max is reunited with his father, who, as it turns out, is actually a street hood involved in the rap music industry. At the same time, Nick's gangster bosses offer Kazaam a career in rap music.

The premise alone sounds bad enough as it is, but "Kazaam" is actually worse than that. The only jokes that work, like the breakfast sequence and Kazaam's private shower scene, are already in the trailers. Most others fall flat, especially the cheap bit about Kazaam's drooping shorts falling down when he crosses the street.

Also, audiences might care what happens to Max if he wasn't such an ungrateful little whiner, who constantly lies and connives his way into trouble. Around the third or fourth time he tells his long-suffering mother (Ally Walker) off, they'll be ready to respond in kind. Capra's irritating performance helps, too. His bug-eyed smirk isn't exactly endearing.

With the exception of Walker and O'Neal (at times), the other performances are uninspired and verge on negative stereotyping. Both Acheson and John Costelloe, who plays Walker's fiance, seem to have gone to the Tony Danza School of Bad Eye-talian Acting, while Marshall Manesh's Indian accent is inappropriate for someone playing Nick's Middle-Eastern boss.

"Kazaam" is ridiculously padded and seems longer than its 90 minutes. For example the scene with Kazaam making a fast-food storm seems to exist only for the sake of product promotion. And a rap-duet number between Kazaam and Max (with Capra lip-synching rapper Wade Robson's vocals), "We Genie," might have been appropriate for a rap musical, but not for this limp comedy, where it serves only to prolong the misery.

The film is also somewhat violent in its final 20 minutes, as Kazaam has to fight off Matteo's double-crossing boss and his bodyguards. The needlessly brutal fights that ensue come as a total surprise in comparison with the cartoony violence in the rest of the movie.