By DONALD PORTER
In the course of living, we inevitably encounter people who are so persistently obnoxious that we go to great lengths to avoid them. Al Pacino plays just such a jerk in “Scent of a Woman.” But we’re supposed to pay good money to spend more than two hours with him.
It’s the same sort of bizarre miscalculation director-star Billy Crystal made with last year’s “Mr. Saturday Night,” which also was a movie about a jerk.
There are some people you just don’t want to spend a couple of hours with. As cinematic torture goes, there are worse movies to punish yourself with (“Toys,” for example). Still, “Scent of a Woman” is not the only other movie in the marketplace.
Pacino plays Frank Slade, a former military man whose loud, boorish behavior worked fine for him while he was on LBJ’s White House staff a quarter century ago – LBJ, after all, was probably worse than Slade in the crude department. But somewhere along the line Frank’s career derailed, and he wound up playing hot potato with live hand grenades to relieve boredom, or prove his mettle, or whatever. The stunt blinded him, and he’s been living on a disability pension ever since.
Bottom line: Frank’s life, as he views it, isn’t much fun anymore. He’s been living with his niece, her husband and their two kids – and hating every moment. Now’s his chance to make a break for it: They’re leaving home for the weekend and have hired a teenager, Charlie (Chris O'Donnell), to look after him.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Frank’s been stashing his pension checks away, saving for a big trip to New York City. He hauls Charlie along, of course, and once in the city they eat the best food, drink the best liquor and Frank spends time with the best call girl.
Inevitably, the two males wind up teaching each other about life over the course of their eventful weekend.
Regrettably, the one major plot twist that’s supposed to take us by surprise is shockingly easy to anticipate – a flub that further deflates the movie. (I won’t reveal it, but rest assured that if you see the film you’ll catch on early.) After that, all that’s left is to watch Pacino slam dunk all the other actors who venture into the frame alongside him.
The man can act ... with a vengeance. There, hasn’t been this much acting going on in a movie since Dustin Hoffman wore a skirt in “Tootsie.” It’s a shameless play for Oscar consideration, a big bold “Look, Ma, I still have what it takes!” message for a Hollywood currently obsessed with younger talent.
The thing that makes you cringe is the knowledge that, yes, Pacino has talent to spare; he really is the genuine article, one of our best actors. It’s precisely his ability to remain truthful to the character of Frank Slade that does the movie in: Frank is so easy to dislike that we stop caring precisely when we should be caring the most. Frank’s a goon.