A few not-so-shocking giveaways about this week’s new movie releases, including Justice League and Frank Serpico
Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., Nov. 17
Pay attention, people, because there is a lot going on in this movie. Let's start with the easy part: Al Pacino, playing himself as a huge star and Shakespearean stage actor who feels lost and unconnected to his humble roots. Why does he wig out onstage over a ringing cell phone in the audience? Because he's gone uptown, man. Let him fall in love with a Bronx girl who reminds him of the guy he used to be, and we'll see how he feels about cell phones.
What is Pacino doing here? The same thing Marlon Brando did so adroitly in The Freshman. The same thing Robert DeNiro did so clumsily in Little Fockers. The same thing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried unsuccessfully do when he sent Sherlock Holmes over the edge of Rickenbacker Falls: free himself from the grim weight of a legacy. Who wants to be a slave to his own past glories? They are, after all, past.
It starts with what passes in this context for subtlety, when he starts barging around in ad man Jack Sandelstein's house, shouting for Jack's sister Jill. (Both Jack and Jill are, of course, played by Adam Sandler, who is working out, among other things, his debt to middlebrow entertainers like Milton Berle.) At first, it reads as plausible: it's a big house, Al doesn't know where she is but he thinks she's in there somewhere, so he's shouting. But it doesn't take long before we recognize it: Al is mocking his own famously shouty delivery. Hoo-ah!
Then the sledgehammer. Jack wants Al to do a Dunkin' Donuts commercial. Al wants a date with Jack's sister Jill. Otherwise, "Don't you know me? Don't you know I would do everything in my power to keep that commercial from happening?" A side character is helpful enough to identify the lines as coming from The Godfather Part II, just in case we didn't get it.
Then the piledriver on top of the sledgehammer. [SPOILER!] Pacino eventually does the commercial, which plays on famous line after famous line: "Say hello to my chocolate blend" is the only one I could bear to write down. It's all done with a wink, of course. But wow.
Sandler's bit is more complicated. In the film, Pacino calls him (or at least his character) out as a hack, even as the film calls Pacino out as a high-class fraud. Sandler, too, has left his roots behind for the posh glories of showbiz - even a guy who makes commercials (or films like this) can do very, very well for himself. But at what cost? He's become a selfish jerk, unable to see beyond his twin sister Jill's braying exterior to the sad, lonely person she is inside. Jack is forever reminding his assistant that only he can insult Jews in general and his sister in particular, because they're his people. But the fact remains that he's insulting them. He's left his people and gone Hollywood, and in a decidedly inglorious way - his birthright sold for a mess of pottage. Heavy stuff.
All that said, it's mostly terrible: obvious shallow, lazy, etc. Though it does manifest one basic truth: that an unfunny joke - mannish Jewess expelling Herculean quantities of gas behind a bathroom door after her first encounter with Mexican food - can eventually become funny, if only because of how long everyone involved is willing to go with it.
Fart. "Oh, you didn't think that was funny, Mr. High-Minded Movie Critic?" Fart. "Well, screw you, we're going with it." Fart. "No, seriously, we can keep this up all day." Fart. "Hear that?" Fart. "That is the sound of your barely suppressed laughter." Fart. "We are winning." Fart. "You are losing." Fart. "Ha! I saw you smile! Admit it!" Fart. "Okay, one more." Fart.