Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sylvester Stallone, Ornella Muti, Don Ameche, Peter Riegert, Tim Curry, Vincent Spano, Marisa Tomei, Eddie Bracken, Linda Gray, Chazz Palminteri, Kurtwood Smith, Art LaFleur, Robert Lesser, Yvonne De Carlo, Martin Ferrero, Harry Shearer, Richard Romanus, Arleen Sorkin, Joey Travolta, Jim Mulholland, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Barondes
Written by: Michael Barrie, Jim Mulholland, based on a play by Claude Magnier
Directed by: John Landis
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 109
Date: 04/26/1991

Oscar (1991)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Straight Jackets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Someday, someone will make a case for John Landis as an auteur. It's clear that he has very distinctive rhythms in his films, including penchants for long, silent pauses, uniform character movements, and the occasional breaking of the third wall, not to mention a love of landscapes in Philadelphia. His films always feel personal. Yet after a wonderfully successful beginning and a solid decade, he still suffered a huge decline and has never really recovered. Oscar (1991) is perhaps the beginning of that decline (although an argument can be made for his underrated 1992 vampire film Innocent Blood).

Newly released on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber, Oscar seems to have started from a reasonable place. Landis was apparently interested in making something like a French drawing-room comedy, and found an old stage play by Claude Magnier, which had been made into a 1967 film. Landis changed the setting from the modern day to the Depression era. Then Sylvester Stallone was cast, perhaps because the actor was looking to get away from his Rocky/Rambo persona. Stallone is actually fine in his role as Snaps Provolone, a former gangster who has promised his dying father (Kirk Douglas, in one scene) that he would go straight. The trouble is that the role is so speedy and rhythmless that I can't think of anyone alive that could have possibly played it well. (James Cagney might have been able to do it.)

So basically, over the course of one long day, while waiting to meet with and strike a deal with some straight bankers, Snaps runs around his big mansion, getting dressed and dealing with various problems. He has one daughter that he knows about (Marisa Tomei) and another that he doesn't (Elizabeth Barondes). There are at least two male suitors looking for the girls' hands in marriage. And there are three black suitcases, one containing diamonds, one containing money, and one containing ladies' underwear, that keep getting mixed up. And that's about it.

Stallone looks great in his vintage suit and manages a few funny line readings (and some good comic timing). Chazz Palminteri also manages a few laughs with his reading of his right-hand thug character as sensitive and slightly confused, but optimistic. (He cries whenever a couple finds love and happiness.) But other actors, and their characters, are surprisingly static for such a frantic movie. Even worse, despite all the running around, the movie still feels slow, dragging sluggishly toward the end of its long 109 minutes. Only in very sporadic, all-too-rare moments does Landis find a way to fit his voice into the busy material, but not enough to make it worth a viewing.

Kino Lorber's release offers a bright, clean picture and solid sound. Bonuses include trailers, and a 15-minute video interview with Landis, who cheerfully discusses his experiences making the movie.

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