He’s a Rappin’ Genie with an Attitude and.. Oh, God, Please Let It End!
Directed by Paul M. Glazer / 1996
Blu-Ray Street Date October 16, 2018
Kino Lorber Studio Classics
A copy of the Criterion Edition of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V sits unwatched atop my Blu-Ray player. Instead, I have loaded up Kazaam, Paul M. Glazer’s 1996 “comedy” about a young boy who finds a magic boom-box that contains a 5000-year-old genie. I’m beginning to think I need to make better life choices.
Glazer’s best known for his role as Detective Dave Starsky, on the 70’s cop show Starsky and Hutch. In the 1980’s he began directing, starting with the TV movie Amazons. He was soon directing features, and has what could’ve been his breakout hit with 1987’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man. For Kazaam, he served not only as director but also as a producer and Glazer provided the film’s story.
Kazaam’s story is that of 12-year-old Max (Francis Capra, A Bronx Tale). Max is one of those kids who’s in perpetual trouble at school for goofing off, slacking on his homework and generally being disruptive during class while some of us are trying to actually listen so we can learn things and get good grades to get into a good school and improve our lives, Jason! So will you please sit down and shut the f… Errrr… excuse me. Anyway, Max is continually being harassed by teachers, he’s being picked on by older bullies, and what’s worse: his mother is getting remarried.
Holy Neverending Story, Batman!
So Max’s life is in a rough place now (his mother mentions early on about how she’s constantly having to work double shifts to help make ends meet- but she never, ever goes to work throughout the entire movie, so what’s up with that?). When the aforementioned bullies jump Max outside of school one day, it’s about to get a lot rougher. Max attempts to hide from them in an abandoned building (Holy Neverending Story, Batman!), and stumbles upon an old boombox, which he accidentally turns on. This frees Kazaam, an ancient genie living in the boombox and played by NBA star Shaquille O’Neal (The beginning of the movie shows an ancient lamp with Kazaam’s voice coming out of it, but there’s no explanation as to why he’s suddenly in the boombox, so what’s up with THAT?). Kazaam wants to get back into his boombox for some reason, but he can’t until Max makes three wishes (oh, and Kazaam frequently, though inconsistently, speaks in rap, so WHAT’S UP WITH THAT?). Naturally, Max uses his first wish to make junk food rain from the sky- and that’s about as creative as his wishes get.
One fun thing about stories like this is dreaming of the things you would wish for, if you came across an NBA player trapped in a radio. Sure, one could wish for money, or immortality or something silly like world peace. But watching this movie, I knew exactly what I would wish for.
My first wish: I wish Kazaam would have picked one plot, and stuck with it through the whole movie. Is it about Max coming to terms with his parent’s divorce? Is it about Max learning how important responsibility is? Is it about Max learning how to stand up to the bullies? Is it about whatever was going on with the pirated tapes? Is it about Kazaam becoming a famous hip hop star and finding love? Is it about that creepy mid-eastern gangster discovering what Kazaam is? The final film feels like they managed to take 3 or 4 earlier, wildly different drafts and just jumbled them together.
My second wish: I wish Kazaam had not wasted Shaq’s natural charisma. Shaq’s not an actor, obviously. His strengths lay on the court. Still, he has a lot of natural charm, and at least he seems to be having fun in the role. But for the most part, Shaq is really stiff here, and whatever emoting he’s required to do comes off as insincere. I’m sure directing a non-actor in such a major role isn’t easy, but Glazer drops the ball here. If I could add a rider onto this wish, I wish it had utilized his size more creatively. If there’s one thing Shaq is known for besides his athleticism, it’s his size. But there are few instances where the movie bothers to play up his scale.
Finally, I wish I had not wasted my time watching this movie. Kazaam is a bad movie in every way. There is nothing about this movie that justifies its existence. The writing is bad, the directing is bad, the performances are bad, the special effects are bad. There are elements of the film that were problematic even 25 years ago (Max, a young white boy, tells Kazaam, a mature black man, that he owns him with a satisfied smirk). Watching the end credits, I felt bad for every single person involved who spent time and effort into working on it (except the writers and director, because screw them!). I felt bad for the people who had to try and market it. I felt bad for everyone who paid for a movie ticket to see it.
I wish I had not wasted my time watching this movie.
Kazaam is hardly a classic. It sits at a solid 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, and frankly the reviews that are rated ‘fresh’ still seem half-hearted in their praise. Even general audiences rejected it. On its release, it only earned $18 million at the box-office- on a $20 million budget. It’s failure pretty much put an end to Glazer directing feature films. It was Shaq’s first lead role in a movie- yet he would go onto do just the superhero flop Steel before making a string of cameo appearances in other films as himself. The only cultural legacy Kazaam has is in relation to the mythical Shazaam movie starring Sinbad- a movie noted for having never existed, yet millions seem to remember it vividly (known as the Mandela effect).
Kino Lorber’s blu-ray release of Kazaam is fairly barebones. It just comes with a handful of trailers. Frankly, I think it also should come with a handwritten apology.