Michael Corleone. Tony Montana. Frank Serpico. That blind fella from “Scent of a Woman” whose “Hoo-ah” became the laziest one-word impression since Ronald Reagan’s raspy, drawn-out “Well.”
Al Pacino has delivered some iconic performances over the years. One of his greatest, though, may never be seen: keeping a (presumably) straight face when he was pitched the bonkers new Nazi-busting series “Hunters” (Friday, Amazon).
Keep in mind that, aside from a 1968 guest spot on the ABC drama “N.Y.P.D.” and a handful of Emmy-bait HBO projects — playing a rogue’s gallery of Roy Cohn, Joe Paterno, Phil Spector and Jack Kevorkian — Pacino has never done television.
He may never have even watched television.
Then “Hunters” creator David Weil, who at the time had never had a screenplay produced, went to sell him on playing Meyer Offerman, the mysterious, “Bruce Wayne rich” leader of a vigilante group dedicated to rooting out Nazis in America.
That Weil wasn’t laughed out of the room and actually persuaded Pacino to sign on for his first role in a TV series is a testament to how promising “Hunters” really is.
Offerman and his Hunters aren’t going after some hate-spewing, anti-Semitic keyboard jockeys, or even the likes of those knuckleheads on the wrong end of that infamous “some very fine people on both sides” Charlottesville rally. They’re taking down actual, ran-the-concentration-camps Nazis in 1977 America — and they’re doing it with style. So what if much of that style seems to have been appropriated from Quentin Tarantino?
The Dirty Dozen-style Hunters are made up of Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), whose attitude is as big as her Afro; Vietnam vet Joe Mizushima (Louis Ozawa); married weapons experts Mindy and Murray Markowitz (Carol Kane, Saul Rubinek); British spy-turned-nun Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany); and insufferable movie star Lonny Flash (“How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor), who addresses a colleague as “Judah Macca-bro” and drops a way-too-personal anecdote about a sexual encounter he had with folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
If the Tarantino vibe weren’t obvious enough, considering “Hunters” is a spiritual sequel to his revisionist romp “Inglourious Basterds,” each member of Offerman’s crew is introduced via brief, grindhouse-style movie trailers accompanied by a surf-rock version of “Hava Nagila” from Dick Dale, whose “Misirlou” is synonymous with “Pulp Fiction.”
Aside from serving as a shorthand for viewers, those intros are for the benefit of Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), who stumbles into the Hunters’ secretive agenda and invites himself to join the crew after his grandmother is murdered in front of him in the home they share.
She, like Offerman, survived the camps, scenes from which are re-created in horrifying detail. This mix of comedic elements with the deadly serious nature of these atrocities is a very fine line, one that “Hunters” often stumbles over. It’s not handled nearly as deftly as writer-director Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning “Jojo Rabbit.” Then again, it’s likely no one involved ever even tried.
After all, the series envisions an America in which a white nationalist has infiltrated the U.S. government to the point where he serves as a direct adviser to the president — like that could ever happen. (Eye roll.)
At its heart, “Hunters” is a pulpy revenge fantasy, with the Nazis the Hunters target meeting gruesome, poetic fates.
After spouting various platitudes from religious texts, Offerman eventually comes clean with young Jonah: “The Talmud is wrong. Living well is not the best revenge. You know what the best revenge is? Revenge.”
Despite Offerman’s sometimes shaky accent, Pacino obviously is very good.
Probably not as good, though, as he was at keeping his composure during that meeting and giving the trippy, tantalizing “Hunters” a chance.