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Film review: Oscar

Published: Monday, April 29 1991 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sylvester Stallone in a comedy?

Didn't anybody see "Rhinestone"?

But "Oscar" is nothing like "Rhinestone" . . . thank goodness.

This is a knockabout French farce complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, accidentally switched suitcases and a number of star cameos (primarily older stars, including Kirk Douglas, Yvonne DeCarlo, Don Ameche and Eddie Bracken).

That is, it's based on a French farce, having been transplanted to 1931 New York with Damon Runyon-style characters.

Stallone stars as "Snaps" Provolone, a gangster who, in the pre-credits opening, visits his dying father (Douglas). Dad requests, in his own way, that Snaps give up his wayward life and go straight, for the sake of the family name.

Snaps is, of course, reluctant to do so, but he's willing to give it a try.

The film essentially takes place during the course of one day - the day Snaps tries to go straight - as he encounters his accountant (Vincent Spano), who has been stealing his money and wants to marry his daughter; his daughter, who claims to be pregnant with the ex-chauffeur's child; his tailors, the fussy Finucci Brothers (Martin Ferrero, Harry Shearer); his even more fussy linguistics professor (Tim Curry) and other characters too numerous to mention.

There are black bags filled with, respectively, $50,000 in jewels, $50,000 in cash and his maid's underwear; a woman who claims to be his daughter but is not - or is she; and, eventually, a new maid (Linda Gray), who is revealed to be from Snaps' past.

The plot machinations are relatively unimportant, however. Comic characterizations are the thing here. Stallone works hard, but like Jack Benny, he mainly surrounds himself with funny people and allows them episodic bits to which he reacts. Among the most memorable are Ferrero and Shearer, Curry, Peter Riegert as Snaps' cigar-chomping sidekick, and Chazz Palminteri as his dull-witted bodyguard, all with inspired routines.

And though the film starts off slowly and occasionally gets bogged down (it could use some judicious trimming to tighten things up), "Oscar" somehow gets better as it progresses.

Director John Landis manages to refrain from his usual vulgar excesses (the film is rated PG for some mild violence, profanity and vulgarity) and he does understand farce in general. The main flaw is that things need to be constantly moving along to maintain the pace, but Landis occasionally indulges himself with too many reaction shots. (Since he got a big laugh with Eddie Murphy glancing at the camera in "Trading Places," he has Stallone do it twice here.)

For the most part, however, "Oscar" is enjoyable fluff that provides some laughs.