Kazaam

Kazaam. Touchstone Pictures 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if anyone else felt this way, but at the time that this and Space Jam came out, it seemed to me like you were either for one kids’ movie starring a basketball player or the other, and while I did get a Kazaam toy from whatever restaurant had the promotion, Space Jam had Looney Toons and space aliens, so it was no contest which one I went to see.

This is also the subject of a modern Mandela Effect misremembering, as a lot of people, myself included, started to remember the existence of a movie starring Sinbad as a genie named Shazam instead of Shaq as a genie named Kazaam. Which is strange that I fell into that too, because as I said above, I definitely remembered that it starred a basketball player, and Sinbad is a comedian.

After watching the movie:

Max Connor has been pretty much given up on by most of the adults in his life. His teacher issues him detentions for failings caused by being harrassed by bullies, and then his mother harangues him for getting detentions to get out of being at home to help her. Max also resents that his mother wants to move on from the father who hasn’t been around in a decade and marry her boyfriend, when it turns out that she never told him that his father Nick is still in town and not off to parts unknown. One day Max runs into an abandoned building to get away from the gang of bullies and accidentally activates a discarded boom box that was made a home of by the genie Kazaam, becoming his master and scaring away the bullies. However, after making his first wish, Max realizes that he now has ownership of a genie for as long as it takes him to get around to making his other two wishes, and decides he’d rather take advantage of that for as long as possible while he tries to kindle a relationship with Nick. It turns out that Nick is a talent agent in an underground, illegal music recording operation, and that Kazaam has a talent for rapping that impresses the crowd at the nightclub they operate out of. But Malik, the owner of the club, recognizes Kazaam for what he really is, and schemes to become Kazaam’s new master and become the most powerful man in the world.

This story seems to have a bit of a problem with sticking to the rules of the magic it establishes. Kazaam is magically bound to Max and must do his bidding, but he often selfishly ignores Max or tries to deflect a direct command. The story wants to show their growing but rocky friendship, but it contradicts the pretty firm three wishes contract it bases the magic on in order to do that, and there must be ways to do that which don’t directly mirror how Disney’s Aladdin did it. In addition, the end doesn’t make any sense at all with the rules laid out in the beginning, reiterated by Malik, and affirmed by Kazaam.

Shaq gets to do some mercurial Robin Williams magic, but the main talent on display is rapping. His skill seems fine to me, but the quality of the raps he’s given varies a lot. His nightclub performances are really good, but there are some raps off the stage that are mediocre to embarrassing. I think “We Genie” is the track from the album they pinned their hopes on as the single, but it seems pretty tasteless to turn the story of a dying man begging the gods for help and being turned into a genie for 5,000 years of servitude into a hip-hop posturing piece. Kazaam also has a tendency to rhyme in his regular speech, which is probably why he’s such a(n allegedly) good rapper, and while I can see the limitations it could cause with what they could do with him and the strain it would put on the writing, it would be interesting to keep him speaking in verse all the time, because That’s Just How Genies Talk, or at least struggling to not rhyme because he’s been commanded not to by his master.

The family plot doesn’t hit the beats I expected at all. The mother is introduced as frustrated with Max’s behavior to the point of not listening to any explanations he might have, her boyfriend is a genuinely nice guy who loves her and cares about Max’s approval, and Nick doesn’t recognize Max until it’s spelled out for him who he is and not only doesn’t have time for a random kid showing up at his workplace, but is also in a shady line of work where powerful people can get violent if they don’t get what they want. Max’s mom never has a reason to learn to trust and respect her kid, her boyfriend is just there so get used to it, and then Nick is just an odd arc. I expected Nick to either disillusion Max by being an actually nasty person when it stops suiting him to have a son, or, after it was revealed that he’s in too deep to really have room in his life for a family that might get hurt, that he would turn hero at some point. But really, I think the only reason he comes clean when all is said and done is because it’s the safest opportunity in front of him and maybe that’s part of the mess of magic that the climax hinges on.

I think the two main issues this movie really has are lack of care given to the raps that are supposed to be a centerpiece, and a half-baked third act. Otherwise, I think I enjoyed it more than people say I should for someone who doesn’t have nostalgia propping up my opinion. I don’t know if Shaq’s acting is all that amazing, but he’s got charisma that keeps it fun.

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