Dave makes Oscars his own show, but something's off

March 28, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

Like many of you, I turned on the Oscars for only two reasons. First, I had the faint hope that "Forrest Gump" would take a fall and that "Pulp Fiction," that subversive dream of a movie, would win for Best Picture.

But, mostly, I turned it on for Dave.

I was disappointed, and I wasn't.

Yes, Dave was funny. But I wonder how well he worked as Oscar host.

We turn on the Oscars for the movies. We watch them to see Paul Newman look, at age 70, like most of us wish we'd looked at age 30. We turn them on to see women dressed in credit-card dresses, which pass for wit in Hollywood.

It's a hokey show.

But do we really want to watch somebody make fun of it?

Billy Crystal was the perfect host. He was funny, but he was of Hollywood. He believes in Hollywood. He makes these schmaltzy movies that make you know he believes.

What does Dave believe in?

Dave believes in Sirajul and Mujibur.

He believes in cab drivers doing De Niro impressions. Funny? I laughed. Nobody in the audience seemed to.

Maybe they were too uptight. Maybe they were packed into their tuxes and gowns. (By the way, when did the smashed-breast look come back? I thought it went out with Marie Antoinette.)

They didn't laugh. They tittered.

They didn't know what to make of Sadie the dog who spins when you applaud. That was a stupid-pet trick, a late-night TV gag. What did it have to do with movies?

The Oscars are something different.

The Oscars are the perfect Gump show, all about following your dream.

Dave had a dream. His dream was to do a Top 10 list on the Oscars, which couldn't be easier to lampoon.

Try this list: You know the movie you're watching will not win an Academy Award if it's a Civil War flick and General Grant is wearing Dockers. Or, if it's a beautifully made documentary about inner-city kids who dream of playing professional basketball.

It isn't that the audience doesn't know Dave. A lot of them have been on his show. But they weren't ready for his humor.

He starts out: Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah . . . and there's a room of slack-jawed, million-dollar talents.

At first, when Dave came out, I thought they'd Hollywood-ized him. The monologue seemed straight out of Bob Hope's playbook.

But by the time he got to the "Wanna Buy a Monkey" bit, I knew it was pure Dave. This was something the Oscar show had never seen before.

This was Dave's Mondo Bizarro.

This is what makes him King of All Daves.

This is about attitude. Did you see it? It evolved out of Dave's role in "Cabin Boy," a movie that redefines the word forgettable. Nobody watched it, or will admit to watching it. But Dave's joke is that he got the job over a lot of the top comics in America, who audition the "wanna buy a monkey?" line that didn't quite move into legend in the manner that boxes of chocolates did.

Paul Newman auditioned. So did Madonna.

You get the idea. It's Dave making fun of himself making fun of everybody else.

The show needed it. What the show mostly had was slow moments. Steve Martin was funny. Quentin Tarantino was as essentially goofy as ever.

But mostly it moved at the same pace of every other Oscar show that didn't have a streaker on it.

From a Hollywood point of view, the problem was how few movies there were to be excited about. Look at the Best Picture nominees. "The Shawshank Redemption" spends about 40 years in prison and teaches the lesson that even if you are convicted wrongly of a crime, crime can still pay. As for "Four Weddings and a Funeral," after two weddings I was already deeply into the party dip.

You know how I feel about "Gump."

You had two great movies -- one was an attack on television and everything Hollywood believes in. That was "Quiz Show."

Then there's "Pulp Fiction," which is a comedy about blood and gore.

Maybe it was the right year for Dave.

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