[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]
Few four-word concepts would seem as predestined for American canonization as “Motown Wizard of Oz,” and yet I can’t recall anyone—critics, friends, fellow Hitsville and classic soul aficionados—ever recommending the film version of Charlie Smalls’s 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz. If only by default, this movie should be remembered at least as a curio in the career of one of its many notable contributors—Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, Ashford and Simpson, Sidney Lumet, Quincy Jones, and Joel Schumacher among them.
I wish I could report that The Wiz deserves better than this cultural lacuna, but alas: This is a certifiable turkey, one of those doomed “star-studded” productions where a football team’s worth of talent can’t overcome the fact that nobody’s doing what feels natural. Everyone, particularly Ross, who, by all accounts, was the project’s true auteur, seems so amazed by the virtue and capital-I Importance of their undertaking that even the lighthearted numbers feel leaden. As Dorothy, a put-upon Harlem schoolteacher who’s “never been below 125th St.,” Ross plays her character as if she represented the dramatic and emotional summit of Western civilization. And a handful of other reliably joyful entertainers—most egregiously Jackson, Russell, and Pryor—follow her lead. This is The Wizard of Oz pitched midway between the first act of A Raisin in the Sun and the last scene of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and it lasts a mind-boggling 135 minutes.