Awfully Good: Oscar with Sylvester Stallone

In honor of Sylvester Stallone saddling up for his last RAMBO movie, we revisit one of his most underrated works…

Oscar (1991)

Director: John Landis
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Marisa Tomei, Chazz Palminteri

Oscar Stallone Poster

After making a promise to his dying father that he would go straight, a reformed gangster tries to survive his first day as a legit businessman, but must contend with fake family drama, real policemen, and his worst enemy—grammar lessons.

STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. RHINESTONE. DEMOLITION MAN. JUDGE DREDD. OVER THE TOP. Sylvester Stallone has been a godsend to Awfully Good over the years, providing some of our most memorable entries. So it’s with the utmost gratitude and admiration that we’re going to switch things up and defend one of his most critically derided films.

Oscar Stallone hug
Even Stallone was surprised to find out he had accidentally starred in two ESCAPE PLAN sequels.

OSCAR should’ve been a homerun back in 1991. A madcap comedy was right in the wheelhouse of director John Landis, who was coming off the back-to-back success of COMING TO AMERICA and THREE AMIGOS. Landis perfectly cast Al Pacino in the lead role as the frazzled mob boss and backed him up with all-star talent in pretty much every supporting role. But then Pacino abruptly left, taking a big payday to star in DICK TRACY and leaving OSCAR without a star.

So John Landis did something that would spectacularly backfire in the most memorable way possible: he cast Sylvester Stallone to replace Al Pacino.

Oscar kurtwood smith
Red Foreman finally reached his tipping point with Eric and his friends being dumbasses.

Predictably, in hindsight, audiences and critics came down hard on OSCAR, making it both a commercial disappointment and a critical failure. (It currently sits at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for multiple Razzies.) The reasons are pretty obvious. Stallone didn’t have much experience with (intentional) comedy onscreen. Not to mention, OSCAR was an all-out screwball farce, which requires a certain level of craft and comedic timing. The movie also just wasn’t what people at the time were expecting or wanting from a Stallone-starring vehicle. Landis later said that when they tested the movie, someone actually made this note: ‘Why didn’t Sylvester Stallone take his shirt off and kill anybody?

The closest Stallone gets to Rambo in this movie is picking up a chicken leg and pointing it at someone like a gun.

Oscar Stallone chicken

However, if you know what to expect going in, OSCAR is actually pretty great for what it is—a throwback to a 1930s style of wacky, zany comedy that John Landis clearly loves. There are so many characters and plot lines in play—mistaken identities, mixed-up marriages, misplaced macguffins—and it’s all heavily stylized with a spitfire script and Elmer Bernstein’s playful score. The whole thing has a very Looney Tunes sensibility, even with a character at one point threatening someone and saying, “Why I oughtta…” Not every gag hits home and you may get tired of all the implausible twists and turns, but so much of OSCAR works. If you don’t get joy out of seeing Tim Curry give prim and proper elocution lessons to Sylvester Stallone, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Oscar marisa tomei
Aunt May reacts to Spider-Man reverting back to Sony.

Stallone particularly gets an undeserved bad rap for this movie. I think he would agree that comedy isn’t his strong suit, but his performance as Angelo “Snaps” Provolone is definitely not Razzie-worthy. In fact, I’d argue that he fits the role rather well. He’s funny in his own right, but his obvious discomfort with comedy also adds a well-meaning aloofness to Snaps that makes sense for the character. It may be unintentional, but any exasperation the actor may have had trying to keep up with all the other funny people in this movie only enhances his role as a mob boss trying to keep his head above water during a crazy day where nothing goes right.

And there are plenty of other talented people playing back-up to Stallone in OSCAR. There’s Chazz Palminteri and Peter Riegert as Snaps’ dimwitted goons-turned-butlers, Marisa Tomei as his unruly daughter (another unfairly maligned performance), Tim Curry as his English teacher, and even a slaphappy Kirk Douglas as Snaps’ father. Throw in veteran character actors like Don Ameche, Eddie Bracken, Kurtwood Smith, and Harry Shearer and you’ve got a stew going, baby.

Oscar tim curry
Just wanted to say this man is a treasure and I hope he’s doing well.

John Landis himself has even lamented casting Stallone in recent years, saying in an interview, “I think OSCAR would’ve been a much better movie with Al [Pacino].” I call shenanigans, sir. Stallone is more fun in OSCAR than Pacino ever would’ve been. And lest we forget that the last time Pacino actually did comedy the result was him rapping about Dunkin’ Donuts in JACK AND JILL.

Can we at least all agree that there are much worse Sylvester Stallone movies out there?

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It’s set in the 1930s, so Marisa Tomei wearing a nightgown is as scandalous as it gets.

At least it didn’t win any Razzies! Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Sylvester Stallone gets slapped
  • Sylvester Stallone has to remind someone not to call him boss or use a gun
  • Someone struggles with their accent
  • Someone says it’s a matter of life and death
  • A bag is mistakenly switched

Double shot if:

  • Marisa Tomei cries

Thanks to Diana for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.