03/04/2013 04:03 pm ET Updated May 04, 2013

Movie Review: Oz, the Great and Powerful

There's a big difference between scaring an audience and thrilling them -- and it's a gap that director Sam Raimi has never really been able to bridge.

Raimi jumped from a career of camera-tricks and blood-curdling scares in his early horror-movie work to the trio of Spider-man blockbusters that consumed most of his last working decade. The first one was OK, the second one pretty good, the third weak enough to cause the studio to decide it was time for a reboot. (Well, that and the national case of ADD.)

After a palate-clearing horror movie, Drag Me to Hell, which was inspired in both its cheesiness and its ability to make you jump, here comes Raimi with yet another tentpole film, Oz, the Great and Powerful. It's a waste of his considerable talent.

This prequel to The Wizard of Oz is the construct of writers Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire; Kapner is best known for The Whole Nine Yards (and its sequel) but Lindsay-Abaire is a witty and inventive writer -- who probably is using thais massive studio paycheck to assuage the sense of loss at how little of his work probably made it into this distinctly unfunny and unexciting movie.

Oh, it's exciting enough for a six-year-old; anyone older, however, will already have been exposed to so much on TV, at the movies and on the Internet that this will seem like so much visual cotton-candy. Even a sophisticated grade-schooler will find these doings weak and overblown.

James Franco, the Energizer bunny of actors, plays Oscar Diggs, a small-time magician in a second-rate traveling circus first seen doing his show to a small crowd in the black-and-white Kansas of the early 20th Century. One day, while escaping the clutches of the sideshow strongman whose girlfriend he seduced, Oscar hops into a hot-air balloon - and flies straight into the center of a tornado.

When he lands, he's in rainbow-colored Oz. And it's rainbow-colored in ways the 1939 original never was, with Munchkins and other residents drawn from a multiplicity of ethnicities.

This review continues on my website.