Review: Will Smith’s ‘Collateral Beauty’ is a mess of emotional humbug

Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton star in the holiday drama ‘Collateral Beauty.’

Warner Bros. Pictures

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A man is visited by three mysterious figures at Christmastime to learn a few lessons and put his life back on track.

It’s a familiar theme indeed but one that hits a sour note with the tearjerking drama Collateral Beauty (*½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Friday). A sprinkling of schmaltz is expected — nay, needed — in a emotional extravaganza like this, and you couldn’t put together a better cast on paper. But step aside, Grinch, because this Beauty is also an unseasonably cynical assault on the holiday spirit.

In the tale directed by David Frankel (The Devil Loves Prada), Howard is a successful New York advertising executive who goes through life in a zombie state two years after the death of his young daughter. His workdays revolve around setting up dominoes and watching them topple, and he goes on long angry bike rides at night.

His partners Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) have their own concerns — Whit’s daughter hates him, Claire’s got baby fever, and Simon’s dealing with family health issues — but the top of their to-do list is Howard. After trying everything they can to help yet…