Superficial on the surface, important life lessons linger within.
When Chuck (Austin O’Brien) and Nan (Mara Wilson) are left home alone by their absentee museum curator father (Danny Huston), a mysterious package is delivered containing an antique Middle Eastern oil lamp. Faster than you can sing “A Whole New World,” an ancient genie named Shazaam (Sinbad) is unleashed: an anachronistic wisecracker who becomes a surrogate parent. After the mandatory getting-everything-they-ever-wished-for montage, Chuck and Nan are whisked away on a journey of discovery into the past and future about their beautiful late mother (Amy Yasbeck), their hard-working father, and how they can make their own wishes come true with magic all of their own.
It took less than a year for 20th Century Fox to fast track a low-budget, live-action version of Disney’s smash hit animated film Aladdin but had to settle for comedian David Adkins — aka Sinbad — for a less-magical performance. In spite of the production values, Coneheads director Steve Barron manages to turn out a not-quite coming-of-age story for the latch-key, single-parent generation. Once you get past the over-thought trailer candy bits that Hollywood spoonfeeds us as “funny,” there’s some heart hidden in here thanks to some clever casting and solid chemistry. While adults will probably be rolling their eyes, they really aren’t the target audience.
Too bad they couldn’t have waited a few years and secured a better budget, because as far as children’s movies go, you could do worse. Sinbad might seem an off choice for a Baba Yaga babysitter, but who actually believed Robin Williams could go an entire G-rated cartoon without dropping an F-bomb? The kids are adorable and probably have long careers ahead of them, and this sort of thing seems a natural for Sinbad — he could probably stick to this genre for a while. Sadly, the movie also falls back on a classic trope: the undo button (mild spoiler to follow). When all is said and done, the final wish had to be that Shazaam never came into their lives, the package was never delivered, and indeed none of it ever happened — the kids retain their memories of something that technically never existed, of course… just like the audience. (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)
Shazaam will probably never be remembered as a great movie… or for that matter, really remembered at all. Still, for one tiny moment, a genie convinced a couple of kids that parents sometimes have to work hard but still love their children even when they can’t be there for them all the time, and that’s the kind of magic you shouldn’t need to rub a lamp for.
A 2 skull recommendation out of four.