Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wham! Bam! Damn, Kazaam!

George Santayana never worked in the movie business, and that’s a good thing for all concerned. Instead of “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” we would have had, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to remake it.”
We’re plagued with remakes as it is. New movie versions of Annie, Robocop, Godzilla, and Gilligan's Island are coming in 2014, along with TV-series versions of everything from Fargo to The Road To Bountiful.
Fortunately, the search for new stars for these new/old shows has shifted from athletes to rap artists to internet sensations and reality-TV stars. While this hasn’t brought us to the point where Phil Robertson stars as Miss Hannigan (“Scrub them floors, girls; you’re a-gonna be married in a couple months!”), it has upped the thespian quotient somewhat. I don’t know what kind of acting chops you need to star in Something Borrowed, Something New or get thrown by a Sit ‘n’ Spin through a plate-glass window, but it has to be more than what it takes to drain stepback three-pointers. And more importantly, it’s quelled the clamor to remake Kazaam.
You’ve probably forgotten Kazaam; I had until I stumbled upon this promo card this morning, and I’d really liked my life up to that point. But Kazaam brings back memories I’m not sure I want to remember.
For those of you who are not completely up to speed on pooch-screwing, shark-jumping, egg-sucking movies of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Kazaam was a thinly veiled (no pun intended) remake of Aladdin, with Shaquille O’Neal in the Robin Williams role.
Shaquille O’Neal as a seven-foot-one, three-hundred pound genii that grins a lot, wears size-18 curly-toed velvet slippers, sports a Superman tattoo, talks like a cement mixer full of stove bolts, raps with the rhythmic sensibilities of Flo, and can’t shoot free throws: Why didn’t I think of that? And better yet, why didn’t I think of throwing myself on top of that puppy of a license like a Sgt. Rock hero flinging himself onto a live grenade to save the rest of his platoon?
I couldn’t do that last thing, because Donruss beat me to it.
When I think of non-sports cards, I don’t immediately think “Donruss.” And when I think “Donruss non-sport cards,” my mind trips back pleasantly to Odd Rods and images of Bill Spaceman Lee lookalikes stuffed into GTOs with engines the size of the Sears Tower protruding from the hood. I had actually forgotten that Donruss, just like every other cardmaker flush with sport-card loot, had gamboled barefoot through the poison ivy of the non-sport market in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
A smorgasbord of licenses and properties were laid out before these rich, innocent cardmakers. Some of the properties were jewels, some were paste, and some were the toneless, plotless brainchildren of committees of bean-counting corporate yes-men doing their best Wolf of Wall Street impersonations, movies that made Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate look like Seven Samurai and The Seventh Seal.
And then, underneath those, was Kazaam
It's no My Giant, that's for sure. And acting-wise, Shaq is no Georghe Muresan.
Since I had to read the copy on the promo card, you need to share my pain. “This summer, Shaquille O’Neal materializes into theaters in Kazaam, a major motion picture featuring Shaq in his first movie role as a wise-crackin’ Genie for the ‘90s,” the card reads. “And you can collect all of Shaq’s magic in Kazaam Trading Cards exclusively from Donruss this summer!”
And then, underneath this deathless prose, lest you get any ideas to the contrary, the card sports another big “Exclusively from Donruss.”
No problem, dude. You got this one all to yourself, free and clear.
You can see what Donruss was thinking. It couldn’t be any more transparent if their corporate skull was made out of cellophane. Shaq sells. Shaq sells. Anything Shaq sells. A Shaq movie’s gonna sell. And a Shaq card set of a Shaq movie has to sell. Right? RIGHT?
Amazingly, Shaq is not the worst thing about Kazaam. (He’s not the best thing either, but only because there is no sense in using the word “best” around Kazaam.) The worst thing is the slogan: “He's A Rappin' Genie With An Attitude ... And He's Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” The second-worst thing is the plot, which was fished out of a dumpster behind Nickelodeon’s world headquarters. The third-worst thing is the kid lead, Francis Capra, who is so one-dimensional that he makes the Sprouse twins in The Suite Life on Deck look like they’re going to jump out of the screen and plop in your lap. The fourth-worst thing is Shaq’s outfit. His Laker warmups would have been a far better choice than the neo-Babylonian tunic with cardboard bracelets. (The slippers are cool, though. They are without question the best part of the movie. In fact, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Kazaam are the only two movies where the best thing about them is the shoes.) The fifth-worst thing is Shaq.
Given the essential dreckiness of the movie, could there be any hope for the cards? Of course not. Kazaam the card set is even more formulaic than Kazaam the movie. There actually was trading-card potential here; a bad movie does not automatically translate into a lazy, indifferent set. Donruss could have cut up the slippers and made SlipperCards, or donated Shaq’s pants to a family needing emergency shelter. But Donruss was too far removed from its Odd Rod days to have any ideas on how to fun up a set of cards where the major characters are a basketball-star-turned-cheesy-genie, a nondescript kid, and a boombox. Donruss was just meatballin', trotting out the tired old formula in the service of a movie whose most effective marketing tactic was distracting people's attention from the movie. Uncle Allen Caplan would have known what to do with Kazaam, that’s for sure.
Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that trading cards are a disposable medium. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Fortunately, a Kazaam comes along every now and then to remind us.
Hard as it may be to believe, Kazaam did not represent the nadir of Donruss’ dalliance with the movies. We’ll go there next time.
In the meantime, if you’re an 11-year-old orphan girl, you’d best stay out of North Louisiana and away from strange old guys with beards. Not even Shaq’s gonna help you there. 

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