O'Neal's magic stops well before 'Kazaam'

July 17, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

Hmmm. Maybe Shaq O'Neal ought to concentrate on winning a few NBA championships before he steps into his rightful place in the universe as movie star and master rapper.

In any event, "Kazaam," with the big guy as its star, seems little more than a vanity project based on the idea that Shaq already is a movie star and a master rapper.

He is, of course, an engaging personality. Gigantic and powerful, yet oddly benign and approachable, he appears to have a considerable future in films once he hangs his Size 19s up. He just needs some better guidance. One thing: He should never again do a film with flying French toast. This film, directed by Paul Glaser, showcases him at his most amiable best, without seriously adding to the entertainment values of our decades.

Shaq is cast as a genie who is liberated by a troubled inner-city boy (Francis Capra); the premise is kind of neat along boyish fantasy lines: What would you do with a pet 7-foot-tall giant at your bidding on the mean streets of New York?

But that charming premise is quickly lost in a fairly conventional melodrama involving the boy's real father, some kind of record executive in trouble with the Mafia. This gets the kid into the

New York club scene, somewhat homogeneously imagined by Glaser, which in turn leads to the movie's main selling point, a couple of raucously performed rap numbers by the big guy.

I never understand this one. John McEnroe went through the same thing. You're world-class at one discipline, with skills no other man on the planet possesses -- but you want to be a rock-and-roll star. As sociology and psychology, this is more revealing than it is moving.

And as a rap artist, Shaq makes a terrific center. He has good moves to the basket and powerful presence and body control. He's OK, for a basketball player instead of a professional rapper.

The movie ultimately plays itself out in melodramatic shenanigans appropriate to a low-end after-school special and a few hardly dazzling special effects, the lamest of which is the flying French toast. There's plenty of time for Shaq to become a movie star, but that time has not yet arrived. He needs to work on his free throws, not his rapping.

'Kazaam'

Starring Shaquille O'Neal and Francis Capra

Directed by Paul M. Glaser

Released by Touchstone

Rated PG

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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