It brings no pleasure to report this, especially when the distributing studio, Sony, is dealing with a monstrous hacking scandal and a hard-knock year. Let's put it charitably. The risks taken by co-writer and director Will Gluck ("Easy A," "Friends With Benefits," both quite good) begin with pulling "Annie" out of the 1930s and plopping it down in contemporary Manhattan. Living in foster care up in Harlem, the girl formerly known as "orphan" (each time she's called that, she corrects the record by retorting, "I'm a foster kid") is played this time by the confidence-plus machine called Quvenzhane Wallis, of "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Miss Hannigan, her boozy tormentor, has been re-conceived as a wannabe rock star spewing jokes about Hootie and the Blowfish. She's played by Cameron Diaz, scaling her shtick for multiplexes equipped with a second balcony, of which there are none.
Daddy Warbucks has become Will Stacks, a germaphobic, socially isolated communications magnate portrayed by Jamie Foxx. Running for mayor, Stacks rescues Annie in traffic one day and suddenly his poll numbers improve. Egged on by his campaign manager (the Rooster Hannigan equivalent, for those keeping track), Stacks acts as Annie's rich uncle-type guardian for short-term publicity purposes. Bobby Cannavale plays the campaign string-puller; Rose Byrne, a ray of sunshine in a pretty grim movie, is Stacks' Woman Friday, whose life cries out for some merry disruption.
This is what the re-makers of "Annie" had in mind from the beginning. The script by Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna establishes a jeering tone with a prologue set at Annie's school, in which a tap-dancing red-headed moppet -- the Annie from the Tribune Content Agency's fabled comic strip -- is mocked by classmates. A lot of screen time in this new "Annie" is devoted to exploiting the pernicious yet convenient range of Stacks' cellphone empire; the guy even has a cellphone tower hidden in the Statue of Liberty's torch. Is he a Bond villain in training?
Now and then, there's a bit of the original score, the one written by ace composer Charles Strouse and banal lyricist Martin Charnin, though often in "Annie" you get a bit of an old song jammed inside new melodies and lyrics supplied by Greg Kurstin, Sia Furler and Gluck. I don't care about fidelity to the original, but I do care that the new "Annie" mistakes dithering for choreography and cynicism for wised-up charm. Is this story really the place for lines such as: "People shouldn't be scared of governments; they should be scared of cellphone companies"? Huh? Wha? The overall vibe of this folly is curdled and utterly blase; it's a 118-minute foregone conclusion, finesse-free and perilously low on the simple performance pleasures we look for in any musical, of any period. I did enjoy Wallis and Byrne together, though. And I'm sure Purell is enjoying the product placement.
MPAA rating: PG (for some mild language and rude humor).
Running time: 1:58.