Sylvester Stallone has built a successful career playing hulking heavies. As Rocky Balboa, he fought his way into the Hollywood big time in five separate instalments of the scrappy boxer’s saga. And as the snarly, anti-communist freedom fighter John Rambo, he turned from Italian Stallion into a menacing cult hero of American patriots. In his new movie, Oscar, a tribute to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, Stallone plays on his tough-guy image in a comic portrayal of a Prohibition-era beer baron trying— against heavy odds—to put his mobster past behind him. The result is a decidedly featherweight but pleasingly funny affair.
Oscar owes much of its appeal to the breakneck pace set by veteran comedy director John Landis. Almost the entire movie takes place on a summer morning at the mansion of bootleg brewer Angelo (Snaps) Provolone, played by Stallone. One month earlier, Provolone’s father (Kirk Douglas, in a wonderfully over-thetop cameo) made a deathbed request of his son to sever his mob connections and become an honest man. Since then, Provolone has been closing his breweries and courting four up-
right, uptight bankers in the hopes of becoming their partner. On the morning at hand, he is awaiting a visit from them while barking orders at his shady staff to look their respectable best.
His task is complicated by a series of unexpected revelations, white lies and mistaken identities. Among other things, his accountant, Anthony Rossano (Vincent Spano), confesses that he has embezzled $50,000 from Provolone and intends to use the money to set up house with the boss’s daughter. Rossano, however, has himself been deceived: his intended wife is really the daughter of a poor housemaid and has lied to Rossano in order to impress him with her wealth. When Provolone asks his daughter, Lisa (Marisa Tomei), if she is having an affair with one of his employees, she confesses, referring not to Rossano but to the chauffeur, Oscar (Jim Mulholland).
As Oscar spirals off into countless subplots, Provolone’s image of a man in control of his affairs evaporates. At times, the movie strains a bit too hard to wring funny moments from hoary sight gags and silly puns. But, for the most part, Oscar weighs in with several rounds of solid laughs delivered with a hint of burlesque and a hefty serving of comic punch.
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