***** (Spectacular) 10

****1/2 (Excellent) 9

**** (Very Good) 8

***1/2 (Good) 7

*** (Above Average) 6

**1/2 (Average) 5

** (Below Average) 4

*1/2 (Mediocre) 3

* (Awful) 2

1/2 (Abysmal) 1

0 (Worthless) 0

Thursday, October 7, 2010

# 112 - SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992)

SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992 - DRAMA/COMEDY) **** out of *****

(Blind Asshole Army Colonel and Baby-Faced Lap Dog Vs. The World)

This ain't going to be your average walk in the park, kiddo...

CAST: Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn, Gabrielle Anwar, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances Conroy, Bradley Whitford, Richard Venture, Nicholas Sadler, Todd Louiso, Matt Smith.

DIRECTOR: Martin Brest

WARNING: Some SPOILERS and one blind dude mackin' like he's Hannibal Lecter - straight ahead...

The year 1992 was a good one for blind characters in movies. That year saw the release of JENNIFER EIGHT, a gripping and moody suspense/thriller about a serial killer targeting blind women in rural Northern California. The heroine of the flick was blind music teacher Helena Robertson (Uma Thurman), a fragile and ethereal ingenue. So tremulous was Helena in JENNIFER EIGHT, that you half-expected a strong gust of wind to knock her over before the movie's killer could get even within a hundred feet of her. Suffice it to say, she ain't no Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino), the other notable blind character from 1992.

Lt Col Slade's showcase is SCENT OF A WOMAN, a remake of the Italian classic PROFUMO DI DONNA (translation? Scent of a Woman, Einstein). Slade is a retired army officer who is now living with his niece and her family. He tolerates them reasonably well, considering they're a bunch of bland cardboard cutouts. They tolerate him reasonably well, considering he's a loud and obnoxious asshole. Clearly, there must be some medication involved somewhere in the "relationship."

Anyhow, our movie starts on the even of Thanksgiving weekend, and we find that Slade is staying behind in their lovely clapboard house while the rest of the family heads out of state for turkey dinner elsewhere. Of course, it's distinctly possible that the family chose to leave his rowdy ass behind, but let's give Slade the benefit of the doubt, shall we?

So... as much as his relatives would love to leave him alone to topple down some unseen stairs or burn in an accidental housefire, jail time might dampen their plans for Christmas. This is where our other hero comes in: Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell), a student at a nearby prep school who is also on the dole. Which roughly translates to, "On Financial Aid." Which smoothly translates to, "Poor Kid in Rich Boy Territory." Which means Charlie has to work for spending money. Slade's family hire Charlie to basically babysit the cantankerous jerk over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Good luck, Chuck.

Our boy Charlie doesn't exactly come without baggage, though. See, just the night before, Charlie and another student, rich asshole Harry Havemeyer (Nicholas Sadler), espied two other rich assholes - Trent and Jimmy (Todd Louiso and Matt Smith) - using a ladder to suspend what appears to be a huge condom over a parking space. Unfortunately, before Charlie and Harry can ask Trent and Jimmy what in the holy hell they're doing, who should show up but Mrs. Hunsaker (June Squibb), the busybody librarian, to scare off the mischief-makers.

The next day, Trent and Jimmy's master plan emerges: the giant condom (actually, more like giant balloon - but let me have my kicks here) is actually full of, ahem, white paint. And the parking space it's suspended over turns out to be Headmaster Trask's (James Rebhorn), where he parks his board-bestowed Jaguar. Let's just say this prank results in so much white stuff splattered all over the car (and Trask) that you'd think it (and he) was a porn starlet's face or something.

To say that Trask is just a little bit bothered by this incident would qualify as the Understatement of the Decade - considering he ended up with the Facial of the Century. And I don't mean a spa "facial." Unless it was being run by an army of Hungarian male porn stars. Anyhow, it doesn't take long for that old bag Ms. Hunsaker to remember that she espied Charlie and Harry, uh, espying two other dudes (Hunsaker's eyes were too weak to identify Trent and Jimmy) fucking around with the parking space the night before.

Before you can say "sniveling little bitch" Trask hauls both Harry and Charlie into his office and basically threatens the two with expulsion if they don't sing like the last canary in a burning pet store. Quickly realizing that he's wasting his time trying to scare a wealthy cretin like Harry - who treats potential expulsion with the zeal he would treat a potential blowjob - Trask decides to zero in on our boy Charlie.

Kicking Harry out of the office, Trask quickly puts on his good cop face. Which might be convincing if he didn't fairly exude and ooze "Bad Cop" aura. Cooing like a psychotic dove, Trask basically promises Charlie guaranteed acceptance to Harvard and the hallowed life it will ensure - if he reveals who he saw fiddling with Trask's parking space.

Charlie is clearly tempted, but being the hero of the movie, it would be unseemly for him to jump all over Trask's offer. So he has to play hard to get a little - by telling Trask that he didn't see anything. It works, because Trask gets that look that someone being ruthlessly cockteased gets: barely-contained rage fused with eagerness. Red-faced, Trask tells Charlie to think about his offer over the weekend. Otherwise, he's going to get a spanking. Literally and figuratively.

Fortunately, Charlie doesn't have much time to worry about his quandary with Trask and Harry, as he has more important matters to attend to - like babysitting one asshole blind Lieutenant Colonel. Or rather, one asshole blind Lieutenant Colonel with some surprises up his sleeve. The first one is the revelation that Charlie and Slade are actually flying to New York City for Thanksgiving Weekend - and not staying put as was initially made out to Charlie.

I wish I could say that this was the only surprise Slade has in store for young Charlie, but there are tons more. To wit, Slade plans to: (1) flirt with everything with a vagina by (2) sniffing the air and trying to determine what soap/perfume/hairspray/douche she is wearing; (3) crash his brother Frank's (Richard Venture) thanksgiving dinner which - surprise, surprise - Slade wasn't invited to; (4) screw a high-class hooker on Park Avenue; (5) try to hook Charlie up with a doe-eyed socialite (Gabrielle Anwar) after slade tangoes with her; (6) con a Ferrari salesman into letting them take one out for a spin; and - last but in no way, shape, or form the least: (6) blow his own brains out. And, no, I don't mean with auto-fellatio. I mean with a bullet and .45.

Yes, folks. Our blind asshole army hero is planning to kill himself. And the big weekend in New York City is so he can get his rocks off and have one last hurrah before he puts a permanent shortcut through his cranium.

But will Charlie be able to persuade Slade to (please god no) abort his plans? Will Slade ignore the baby-faced little shit? Will Charlie listen to Slade's advice to rat Trent and Jimmy out? Will Slade drive his relatives to murder him right there at the Thanksgiving dinner table? Will Charlie score with his socialite honey? Or will Slade hog the spotlight the obnoxious drama king that he is? Will that Ferrari salesman realize that he's dealing with a blind asshole and his baby-faced puppet - and call the NYPD?

Find out for yourselves. Just don't forget to brace yourself for some unexpected Pacino growls that would make a furious lion sound positively demure. Good thing Helena Robertson isn't around. She'd crap herself with fear.

BUT, SERIOUSLY: I haven't seen the Italian film that SCENT OF A WOMAN is based on, but hope to do so soon. PROFUMO DI DONNA was evidently a big enough success around the world, and a good enough film, to warrant a remake. SCENT OF A WOMAN is a bit long, and takes its time to get started. But when it does, boy, it's quite a ride. Just like the spin that Slade and Charlie take in that Ferrari in the third act of the film.

As I wrote above, I haven't seen PROFUMO DI DONNA, so I can't really compare the two films. SCENT OF A WOMAN, though, is a very entertaining drama/comedy with the right amounts of humor, melancholy, and deeper themes of loneliness and redemption. Slade's relationship with Charlie is the emotional center of the film. It's exhilarating to see the cantankerous former military officer try to mentor the fresh-faced prep school kid - only to have the latter turn the tables and take control of the relationship.

Al Pacino delivers a strong performance here - literally and figuratively. Some folks have knocked him (and his Oscar win) for his acting here, saying that it's nothing more than showboating and bellowing. I think that criticism is a little short-sighted. Slade was meant to be a loud, obnoxious force of nature. If Pacino had played him as more modulated, the contrast between Slade and the more reserved Charlie would not have been as striking. Pacino makes Slade a multi-layered character. If he didn't bother to hint at and eventually show us the softness and desperation beneath Slade's boisterous exterior, that would be one thing. But Pacino actually humanizes a character that was meant to be more than just larger-than-life, but also relatably human. He delivers a performance that deserves every inch of that Oscar statuette.

As Slade's more measured foil, Chris O'Donnell is hugely appealing and sympathetic. I remembered being so convinced by his acting, that when I saw an interview with him after the film's release, I was surprised by how goofy and unlike Charlie he was in real-life. I suppose that's why they call it acting. O'Donnell makes Charlie into an admirable melange of quiet smarts, soulful sensitivity, and steely resolve by refusing to let Slade - or Trask - bully him when the going gets tough. Charlie is the kind of a guy that guys want as a friend, girls want as a husband, and every parent would kill for to have as a son. I don't think I've seen Chris O'Donnell be more appealing in any other role, and he will always be Charlie Simms to me.

As for the supporting cast, the standout is James Rebhorn as the cagey, calculating, and compromised headmaster. Trask is clearly one of those guys who cleverly mask their ruthless ambition under seemingly benign exterior. And when they encounter someone as incorruptible as Charlie, they explode.

Another standout is Gabrielle Anwar, who shines in her single scene as Slade's unexpected Tango partner. Her brief scene with Chris O'Donnell as Charlie hints at some potent chemistry that is unfortunately left simmering. Sigh.

Bottom line: since I haven't seen PROFUMO DI DONNA, I can't say how it compares to SCENT OF A WOMAN. But if SCENT OF A WOMAN is any indication, it must be very good indeed. Can't wait to see it.

Oh, and regarding JENNIFER EIGHT, that other movie from 1992 that featured an interesting blind character, it will be reviewed on the upcoming Halloween week - along with six other Serial Killer movies. Yikes!