'Oscar' can be summed up in a word, and it's not funny

April 26, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic


Starring Sylvester Stallone.

Directed by John Landis.

Released by Touchstone.

Rated PG. Imagine a ballet danced by pigs in cleats with clowns on their backs and you have some idea what carnage is done to the form of farce by Sylvester Stallone and his cohorts in "Oscar."

Stallone is awful. The other performers are awful. The movie is awful. The seat I was sitting in was even awful and when I got to my car in the lot afterward, it was awful.

Stallone plays "Snaps" Provolone -- a more appropriate name might have been Snaps Prosciutto, by the way. He's a hammy, preciously cute New York gangster in the year 1931, who swears to grant his father's dying wish to go straight. The father is played by Kirk Douglas. He's awful. Snaps buys into a bank. The day his new WASP partners -- Ken Howard, Mark Metcalf and William Atherton, all awful -- come by to check him out, however, his daughter (Marisa Tomei, especially awful) tells him she's pregnant; his accountant (Vincent Spano, not awful) tells him he wants to marry her; a strange girl (Elizabeth Barondes, awful) tells him she's been pretending to be his daughter; and his elocutionist (Tim Curry, really awful) tells him to stop dropping his g's. But if Stallone doesn't drop his g's, there's no performance there at all.

The movie is trapped inside Snaps' huge, gaudy mansion, and director-perpetrator John Landis never comes close to freeing it from a sense of stage-bound claustrophobia, which he hopes to make work for him as part of the general sense of "fun for all" atmosphere. But it fails: The airless feeling of closure drains the spontaneity of the piece. Whoever told Landis he was a director, anyway? He's awful.

The script lamely trundles through several species of tropes from Farce-4-Beginners 101, including mixed objects (including three satchels, one holding jewels, one holding money and one holding lingerie but none holding a script), mixed identities (the accountant thinks two tailors are killers), several dolorous in-one-door-out-the-other routines and wordplay so dim it should be labeled word work: "Don't call me boss!" Snaps snaps to his No. 1 henchman, Aldo, who quickly replies, "Sure, Boss." They do this one three times. THREE TIMES! It's awful.

Farce is as delicate as a haiku; it must rest on a membrane of coincidence, it must float on breezes of timing, it must be as fast as the wind and as effortless as breathing. In "Oscar" the cast works harder than ironworkers to launch a battleship; you feel them grunting against the witless script, trying to nurse laughs out of lines so dead they should be quarantined by the health department. It's as if every actor in the film is undergoing childbirth.

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