Review: Oscar

This week’s short review is of yet another crime comedy set in the first decades of the 20th century, and it also may contain minor spoilers.

Oscar is a 1991 film starring Sylvester Stallone in a rare comedy role, and it is a remake of a 1967 French film of the same name, which is itself based on a stage play by Claude Mangier. It is a hilarious, confusing tale of a mobster who wants to go straight in the waning years of Prohibition, specifically 1931. It was the number one movie in the US for two weeks, but it was nominated for three Razzies. Let’s see if my opinion follows that of its harshest critics.

Angelo “Snaps” Provolone (Stallone) is a wealthy gangster feared by all, beholden to nobody. But to honor his late father’s (Kirk Douglas) final wish, he decides to go straight, to get out of the business of organized crime, and to become a banker. And he fully intends to do so. Aside from the short prologue explaining the impetus for the plot, most of the movie is set on the day when Snaps Provolone is going straight.

Our story begins when Anthony Rossano (Vincent Spano), Snaps’s bookkeeper accountant pops by for an early morning visit, demanding that Snaps’s number one lackey Aldo (Peter Riegert) wake him early. When Aldo protests, Anthony insists that it is “a matter of life and death.” Needless to say, Snaps is rather upset at the intrusion, and he and Anthony have breakfast in the atrium. Anthony has the chutzpah to ask Snaps for a thousand dollar raise, and Snaps tells him he’s out of his mind. In the course of the conversation, Anthony confesses to stealing petty cash (to the tune of fifty thousand dollars) from Snaps’s operation. But ultimately, his intent is to ask for Snaps’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Needless to say, he doesn’t take this news well, especially after learning that his daughter and Anthony are lovers.

Snaps has one daughter, Lisa (Marisa Tomei). But it wasn’t Lisa’s hand that Anthony sought; his affections belonged to Theresa, a young woman who claimed to be Snaps’s daughter so that Anthony would give her a second glance. She shows up soon to apologize for this deception. Meanwhile, Lisa, with the help of the maid Nora, has concocted a scheme to get out of her overbearing father’s household. She claims she is pregnant, and Snaps assumes that Anthony is the father, when the would-be father is actually Oscar, Snaps’s former chauffeur. (You can see how complicated this is getting already. We haven’t even scratched the surface.)

So Snaps tries to trick Anthony into marrying Lisa rather than Theresa. After Anthony realizes the deception, he runs out in a huff. But he returns, saying that he had become attached to the jewels he bought with the fifty grand he stole, and that he would like to buy them back from Snaps using another fifty grand he skimmed from Snaps’s operation.

Meanwhile, Nora tenders her resignation so that she can marry Bruce Underwood, the man Snaps had originally picked out for Lisa. Now we have three identical black bags floating around: one with fifty grand in jewels, a second with fifty grand in cash, and a third which contains Nora’s underwear. These three bags change hands more times than most people can keep track of, and the results are glorious.

I’ll spare you more details; this plot is extremely complicated, and it moves very quickly. But as the film progresses, Snaps gets increasingly confused and runs into more and more trouble as he tries in vain to prepare for the bankers’ arrival early in the afternoon. Twists and turns come right after one another, and by the end of the story, Snaps throws up his hands in frustration and decides to stick with the devil he knows.

This movie keeps me smiling the entire time. I don’t care what the harsher critics say. This film may try to be funny, but it actually is funny, unlike some others. Granted, the plot is so confusing that you literally have to take notes just to figure out what’s going on, unless you watch it a few times. But that’s part of the fun. Watching Snaps’s world fall to pieces is a joyous experience indeed.

If you don’t like cerebral comedy, then this movie isn’t for you. Like I’ve said before, this plot is so complex and confusing that you will need to either watch the movie several times or take notes in order to fully understand what is going on. Yes, a lot of the comedy can seem forced, but the thing is, it works. Yes, Stallone may not be the funniest comedy actor, but honestly, that’s one reason it’s so funny; he plays the fish out of water very well.

Oscar is a confusing, cerebral comedy that a lot of people may have trouble following. I had to take notes to understand exactly what was going on, and even after seeing it a dozen times, it never gets old. This movie is one of my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it. Buy it if you can find it, but it is also available from Netflix on DVD, and occasionally streaming.

Parents’ Guide
Unlike the last film on the list, Oscar is a much cleaner PG. Violence is discussed, but it is done comedically, and there isn’t much onscreen, aside from Snaps trying to strangle Anthony (again, this is comical), and a car crash at the very end of the movie (nobody gets hurt).

Language is fairly tame. One or two uses of “damn”, and also a couple of uses of “hell”.

Sexual content is also fairly tame, having nothing aside from dialogue, and none of it is explicit. Anthony mentions that he and Theresa are lovers, and Lisa implies that she and Oscar were lovers, as well. Later on in the movie [SPOILER ALERT; stop reading here if you don’t want it], Snaps’s first girlfriend comes by to fill Nora’s position, and through a sarcastic statement he makes, she reveals that Theresa is her daughter, and consequently Snaps’s daughter as well.