Angelo Provolone (Sylvester Stallone) is a gangster boss known as Snaps and not a man to mess with considering his power and influence in the city. That is unless you are Snaps' father (Kirk Douglas) who is lying on his deathbed when his son arrives in the pouring rain, flanked by his henchmen, to pay his last respects to the old man before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Just as Snaps leans closer to catch his final words, he ends up with a slap in the face and an earful of a telling off: his dad pleads with him to give up his life of crime for the sake of the family's respectability, so what can the mobster do but carry out his parent's last wishes and turn to a far better line of work in banking?
Oscar was not named after a request by the filmmakers for the Academy to recognise their work but an adaptation of a French theatrical farce best known as a Louis de Funès vehicle from the sixties, much beloved by his fans on the continent. It was also a meeting of minds between two talents whose careers were in the doldrums: Sylvester Stallone was still reeling from the first of his Rocky movies to actually flop, and John Landis was having trouble clawing back the acclaim and popularity his earlier films of the late seventies and early eighties enjoyed. For Sly, another try at comedy in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was to prove it wasn't his most comfortable genre, and he returned to action with far more success.
However, the sense that the star always wanted to show off his comedic chops was never far away, and he did manage to prove to satisfaction he could be funny in Demolition Man, probably his best performance in that vein given he mixed it with the physicality which made his name. Landis, on the other hand, had rarely suffered a problem proving how adept he could be at making people laugh, yet by 1991 he had lost his touch and Oscar was as much a sign of his decline as it was Stallone's - at least the latter could point to his yo-yo-like career of comebacks. In this case the director, being a huge fan of classic Hollywood comedy, obviously wanted to update that style to the nineties, and packed his film with as many character actors and actresses as he could.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the comedy many wanted to see in 1991 and the film sputtered out at the box office, but for Stallone fans (rather than Landis fans) looking for something different from their hero, Oscar proved something of a cult favourite. What were they seeing that everyone else missed? Because rather than a tribute to the Golden Age of screen comedians this looked like the perfect example of a film made for audiences who would never dream of watching the real thing simply because most of them were in black and white and just too old, so a colour update of the form, albeit without the quality, was a better bet. It's not as if the pace wasn't frantic and the plot busy, but the cumulative effect was one of increasing boredom.
With the flat look of a contemporary sitcom and feeble jokes and wordplay to match, Oscar did not want for a decent cast, so much so that you wish Landis had forgotten about beefing up the conventions of an old time flick and come up with something more in his metier of his heyday: it was as if his love of the celebrity cameo had taken over the whole film, with a bunch of famous or at least recognisable faces given a bit of business whether it was worth it or not, when more often than not it wasn't. That plot saw romantic complications, not for Snaps but for his daughter (Marisa Tomei), who wants to get married against her father's wishes, then her fiancée (Vincent Spano) turns out to be interested in someone else who has a connection to the increasingly exasperated Snaps, and so on, down and down with so many complications you just sit back and let them get on with it until they wind down. Paying such a tribute to the comedy classics rarely succeeds, of that vintage anyway, and Oscar was further, tired evidence of that. Music by Elmer Bernstein.