OSCAR. Stallone in a film unfairly crushed by critics

“Oscar” has aged very well and is definitely worth a chance, especially since it was unfairly crushed by critics and audiences at the time of its release.


26 February 2024

Written by Piotr Zymelka.

Sylvester Stallone gave the world two iconic series in the 1980s – one about the life of a struggling boxer (“Rocky”) and the other depicting the adventures of a traumatized Vietnam veteran (“Rambo”). It was an open secret that there was also a fierce rivalry (later turned friendship) with Arnold Schwarzenegger for the title of the biggest action movie star. It was the Austrian Oak who first decided to try his hand at comedy, resulting in “Twins,” filmed in 1988 (fun fact: Arnold earned the most in his career from this film). Stallone’s response took three years, and when “Oscar” finally hit theaters, it turned out to be a flop.

The screenplay was based on a play by Claude Magnier, in which the excellent Louis de Funès performed on French theater stages for years. The play was hugely popular, with days when it was performed twice. In 1967, a film version was made, also starring de Funès. This served as the basis for an American remake directed by John Landis, the creator of hits like “Blues Brothers,” “Trading Places,” and “Coming to America.” Al Pacino and Danny DeVito were considered for the lead role, and the script was initially conceived with John Belushi in mind, the legendary American comedian who died prematurely from a drug overdose. Eventually, Stallone took on the role, which was one of the reasons why the film failed to capture audiences’ hearts. Critics and audiences were shocked – they weren’t ready for such a revolt, seeing a star known for roles as stoic tough guys and a boxer climbing the ladder of fame appearing in a light, non-committal, clearly theatrical (most of the action takes place in one mansion) comedy.

In the prologue, a dying mafia boss (Kirk Douglas) instructs his son Angelo Provolone (Stallone) to abandon criminal business and engage in honest activities. Angelo makes the promise, sealed with a solid slap in the face from his senior. Then comes the animated opening credits, accompanied by an aria from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” From this moment, irony pervades the whole film, signaling to the audience that they are in for a cheerful, witty spectacle. “Oscar” is a comedy of errors, where troubles bombard the main character at every turn as he tries to keep the promise he made to his father. Just when it seems like the plot couldn’t get any more twisted, the writers offer another twist.

The film features many familiar faces. In addition to Stallone and Douglas, there’s a young Marisa Tomei, the fantastic Tim Curry, Don Ameche (“Cocoon,” “Trading Places”), Kurtwood Smith (“That ’70s Show”), Martin Ferrero (“Miami Vice,” “Jurassic Park”), and many others. Stallone revealed his comedic talent in “Oscar” and performed really well. Relaxed and with distance. He even stands up to comparison with Louis de Funès, one of the greatest French actors with incredible comic timing, which says a lot. However, it should be clearly emphasized that Bertrand Barnier (de Funès) and Angelo are two completely different characters. The former is a cunning upstart, choleric and authoritarian, while the latter is surprisingly honest and likable as a former gangster. Both versions of “Oscar” differ enough that you can watch them without feeling bored.

“Oscar” has aged very well and is definitely worth a chance, especially since it was unfairly crushed by critics and audiences at the time of its release. It’s a great comedy with a dizzying pace that doesn’t allow you to look away from the screen for a moment. Sly, like Arnold, proved that he has a sense of humor about himself and his image. And just for that, he deserves a big round of applause.



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