[It is] maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system, including alien productions we’ve never seen… a flatworm could write a better script … In some countries – China, I believe – running Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot once a week on government television has lowered the birth rate to zero.
— Stallone’s opinion of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
And so we’ve arrived, at last, to the Comedies.
These two films represent Stallone both trying, and failing for the most part, to be something other than a main man of action. There are no Rambos, Rockys, or even a Cobra to be found here. Of course, there’s one funny fact that I’ve learned in preparing for this chapter of the Diary: people like Oscar. When I intone “The Comedies” with disdain, people ask me which movies I’m talking about. They immediately forget about the Stallone/Getty collaboration to cheerfully defend the later film with a crisp, “I like Oscar!”
So did Siskel and Ebert, they gave it two thumbs up. It says so on the DVD cover. Even Leonard Maltin offers a few words of praise. In his Movie Guide iPhone app, he refers to the star’s performance as “surprisingly enjoyable in a comic change-of-pace.”
I wish I agreed. Oscar is a comedy of errors based on an old stage play and French movie. It features lots of mistaken identities, bags of money changes hands, and Stallone running from room to room. If you like Clue, you’ve seen a movie of this type that works. Oscar, on the other hand, is so achingly close to working that it’s all the more painful. I think the problem is accepting Stallone in that “comic change-of-pace.”
Set in the world of depression era movie gangsters, actors like Peter Riegert and Kurtwood Smith pitch their performances to a more theatrical mode. Stallone, in the key role of “Snaps” Provolone, is still Stallone. I supposed that could be okay as his character is a straight-man who becomes increasingly frazzled as the errors escalate, but it never quite gels for me.
Okay, let’s talk plot first.
“Snaps” is a gangster trying to go straight after promising his dying father that he’ll get out of the business. Using his laundered cash, “Snaps” hopes to become a member of the board of a local bank. On the day the film takes place, “Snaps” is planning to sign the agreement and become a legitimate citizen. Meanwhile, the cops and a rival mob boss believe “Snaps” is planning to join up with a Chicago area mobster. It could spell disaster, but again, comedy of errors. The intel is bad on both sides as it happens to come from a stuttering stoolie with the nickname “Five Spot Charlie.” Beyond this issue, “Snaps’s” accountant arrives early in the morning announcing that he both embezzled $50,000 and intends to marry Snaps’s (I’m tired of typing the quotation marks) daughter.
For her part, Snaps’s daughter, Lisa, intends to marry the titular Oscar and escape her controlling father. Snaps’s accountant is actually engaged to Teresa, a woman who claimed to be Snaps’s daughter.
In the midst of all of this, Snaps has appointments with his tailors, his elocution instructor, and the monsignor all before the bankers arrive to sign the contract.
Plenty of madness occurs and in the midst of it, Snaps meets Teresa and the elocution instructor falls in love with Lisa. There’s also the matter of that $50,000 grand the accountant converted into jewels. For reasons of “error,” the case containing the ice keeps ending up in the hands of Snaps’s former maid. Oh, also, it turns out that Teresa is Snaps’s illegitimate daughter from a brief affair when Snaps was a lowly driver.
Got all that?
And in all these plotlines are some fine performances. Tim Curry’s turn as the elocution instructor is pretty damned good and his instantaneous attraction to Lisa is awfully charming. Marisa Tomei is pretty great as Lisa. I mean, I know she’s a good actress, but in the early 90s, she was merely passable with a certain amount of charm. Her actual talent is certainly in evidence here. Though I haven’t mentioned her until now, Ornella Mutti is just awesome as Snaps’s wife. She screams every line, but damn if it ain’t a hoot.
The problem comes back to Stallone. Though, I’ll admit it may have as much to do with me. I don’t know if I can accept him in such a broad situation. While he can be funny in small doses, the Stallone persona of the time couldn’t sustain a full comedy. That’s why Rob Schneider was attached to his hip in Judge Dredd and its why he was partnered with Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
The plot: Stallone is henpecked by Sophia Petrillo for ninety minutes.
No, really, that’s it. The film is one joke spread over a feature-length run time. I suppose it was something of a dry run as Stallone is allowed to stay in his usual action hero persona while Getty brings her firecracker old lady schtick to the proceedings. There’s not much to say about this film because it is exceedingly mediocre. No, really. It’s a rare film that I’d rather just forget about, but it reflects Stallone’s bigger issue in the early 90s: he wanted out.
By 1990, Stallone was a lord of the box office and well-respected for his cinematic demolishing of Communism in Rocky IV. But all that success was not enough. He always had higher aspirations as a writer and actor. It’s weird to look back on it now, but films like Rocky and Nighthawks are dramas. Action came with John Rambo. Buoyed by those action film earnings, he attempted something he’d not seriously pursued since Rhinestone.
And we, as a nation, shouted “No!”
The perception of the Comedies sent Stallone down the path of the regrettable Rocky V and, ultimately, his apology tour of action films like Cliffhanger. I suppose no artist can get it right every time, and really, the memory of Stop! makes Oscar look worse, but now I wonder if, perhaps, Stallone’s failure at comedy had more to do with his talents or our perception of him. Of course, all things considered, the timing of back-to-back comedies probably didn’t help, either.
To properly understand Stallone’s difficult time with comedy, it would probably be helpful to take a look at his first attempt, Rhinestone. But that’s for another day (and certainly not the next chapter).
Stallone By The Numbers:
Number of laughs in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot: 0
Number of times Stallone passes the stairwell in Oscar: 20
Appearances by Frank Stallone: 0 (surprisingly)
Frank Stallone songs: 0
For more excerpts from The Satellite Show’s long running series of articles, check out Justin’s review of the Afterschool Special “The Skating Rink” or Clint’s examination of the RPG Teenagers from Space.