In this film based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) is a lonely 10-year-old girl who has moved to a sluggish small town in Florida with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). She has a tough time getting through to her dad: when he is not preaching the gospel he walks around in a haze haunted by the departure of Opal's mother many years before. But when Opal adopts Winn-Dixie named after the supermarket where she found the mutt things start to brighten up for the little girl. With her special companion by her side Opal ends up meeting some pretty interesting people in the town. They include Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint) the local spinster librarian who spins great stories; Otis (Dave Matthews) the shy drifter working at Gertrude's Pet Shop; and Gloria (Cicely Tyson) an old blind lady living with ghosts from her past. Through Opal's sunny disposition and Winn-Dixie doggone tenaciousness they help the town find their joy and their sorrow. And at the same time they mend Opal's troubled relationship with her father. Collectively now awwww!
All the players fit snugly in this warmhearted movie especially the talented young Robb who makes her feature film debut in Winn-Dixie. It's imperative to cast an adorable child and Robb doesn't disappoint keeping things genuinely fresh with the big eyes infectious smile and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm charm. Daniels too doesn't overplay it as the wounded preacher--aptly described by Opal as a turtle--who rarely sticks his head out of his shell. Veterans Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson do what they can with their stereotypical parts as the kindly spinster storyteller and kindly old wise woman respectively. But it's singer-turned-actor Dave Matthews who stands out as the drifter with a troubled past but can "sing most anything " even charming the animals in the pet shop á la the Pied Piper. His poignant performance is up there in the sentiment department.
Here we go with the children and the animals again. Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan The Joy Luck Club) is the latest director to take a stab at guiding those most unpredictable of actors. As he explains "Sometimes the going is slow. But then suddenly something magical happens that you couldn't possibly have planned or anticipated." It's true. There are definite moments of inspired sweetness especially between Opal and Winn-Dixie played by a Picardy Shepherd a rare breed of dog from France that has the look of a big old lovable mutt. And of course you can't go too wrong using heart-tugging material based on a beloved children's novel on par with Where the Red Fern Grows and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. That's also Because of Winn-Dixie main problem. Fans of the book will certainly love the film but overall it doesn't really offer anything new in this genre. It's the same general premise about the kid and a dog--or a horse a deer whichever animal works best--who can change the lives of those around them just from being pure of heart. Maybe it's the curmudgeon in me but Winn-Dixie just doesn't stand out among the plethora of films similar to it.
In this docile farce from George of the Jungle director Sam Weisman Lawrence and DeVito try to destroy each another--unimaginatively though--over a ring both consider lucky. Lawrence receives the ring as a token of love from girlfriend Carmen Ejogo. Though overly accepting of Lawrence's criminal pursuits Ejogo warns Lawrence never to lie to her about anything. Which puts Lawrence in a bind: lie to Ejogo or tell the embarrassing truth that the ring was stolen by the Boston bigwig whose beachfront mansion he tried to burgle. DeVito's just as crooked; he just manages to hide behind corporate law. Facing bankruptcy DeVito feels his luck change after taking the ring from an apprehended Lawrence. His refusal to return the ring results in open warfare between the two men neither of whom seems interested in what's at stake beyond the prized possession now adorning DeVito's finger.
Lawrence's career consists of playing either cops or robbers and audiences seem to accept him no matter which side of the law he's on. Perhaps this can be attributed to his insistence on offering the same resourceful and good-natured wise guy no matter whether he's busting felons or committing felonies. Unfortunately given What's the Worst's potentially spiteful scenario Lawrence lacks the necessary nasty streak to take on the kind of single-minded scumbag DeVito so deliciously offers. Not that it matters because DeVito indulges in nothing more vicious than spitting out a string of expletives on live television. Thank goodness for William Fichtner and his effeminate police detective. Dressed like he's plundered Tom Wolfe's wardrobe Fichtner garners more laughs with a mere swish of his manicured hand than Lawrence and DeVito can muster during 90 minutes of bloodless war games.
Based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake What's the Worst that Could Happen? should put its sparring partners through hell and back. It never does. Lawrence merely devises elaborate ways to burgle DeVito's numerous homes. DeVito fails to come up with any entertaining retaliations and repercussions are far and few between. Sure DeVito's out a few bucks but he's got plenty more to play with. And Lawrence never faces the prospect of being arrested once the games begin. Director Sam Weisman and screenwriter Matthew Chapman seem too hesitant to allow the proceedings to get down and dirty. Lawrence and DeVito are like two friends fighting over the last beer in the refrigerator. Heck most of us have seen gorier playground brawls. Things do perk up somewhat when Lawrence and DeVito clash face to face--it's a damn funny sight to see DeVito trying to whoop Lawrence's butt--but they rarely cross paths.