Picks and Pans Review: Scarface

updated 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

What becomes a three-hour endurance test of a movie begins brilliantly. Al Pacino is a young thug arriving in Miami with 125,000 other Cubans in the 1980 boat lift. In short order, Pacino and his buddy, subtly played by newcomer Steven Bauer, have hitched their wagons to Miami cocaine kingpin Robert Loggia. Director Brian (Dressed to Kill) De Palma, art director Ed Richardson and visual consultant Ferdinando Scarfiotti create a Miami of vulgar richness. And Michelle Pfeiffer, undefeated by the fiasco of Grease 2, makes one of the sexiest entrances in screen history as Loggia's mistress, a hot number who'd rather powder her nose with cocaine than respond to Pacino's advances. The premise is explosive. And why not? Scarface is an updating by screenwriter Oliver (Midnight Express) Stone of the 1932 classic directed by Howard Hawks, written by Ben Hecht and starring Paul Muni as a gangster loosely based on Al Capone. The new Scarface, though, goes nowhere. Pacino's hyper performance soon becomes tiresome. His Cuban accent vacillates disconcertingly between a Desi Arnaz model and a Charo. The language, with constant use of what Neil Simon once referred to as "the 'F' word," soon becomes an assault. Characterization and plot go out the window. Arms are cut off with chain saws. By the third hour everything is out of control. Pacino, now the big shot, snorts from a Mount Everest of coke piled atop his desk; it covers his nose and eyelashes. He rejects Pfeiffer ("yer womb is polluted") and faces incestuous longings for his sister, nicely portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The bloodbath that ends the film is an insult to everything De Palma has done before. There is no style to this violence; everything seems to be in service of an Oscar-stalking Pacino performance. His acting isn't acting; it's shameless showing off. So is the movie. Compare the original's way of handling a murder. When George Raft, in the Bauer role, is killed by Scarface, all the camera shows is the coin that Raft customarily tosses in the air falling to the ground. In the De Palma/Pacino version, it's a graphic gore-a-thon. The new Scarface ends with a dedication to Hawks and Hecht; it's the film's final, unforgivable obscenity. (R)

From Our Partners