Sometimes a movie can be fun not because it’s so well written or so interesting
but because it gives some wonderful veteran actors a chance to ham it up
together. The Sunshine Boys, with Walter Matthau and George Burns, was a movie
like that. And now we have an Israeli version of this type of film, Hunting
Elephants by Reshef Levi, which was the perfect light opening film for the
Jerusalem Film Festival and is now playing throughout the
Hunting Elephants features prime schtick from two of Israel’s
top actors – Sasson Gabbai, whose is best known as a serious actor but who has
also done comedy; and Moni Moshonov, who started as a comedian but who has moved
more into serious acting in recent years.
To elevate this collaboration
to more than a late-night comedy show sketch, Levi has brought in a much-welcome
guest from abroad, Patrick Stewart. Yes, Patrick Stewart, whom you probably know
as either Captain Jean-Luc Picard from the new Star Trek movies or Professor
Charles Xavier from X-Men. Stewart is a classically trained actor, who joined
the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s and, like most classically trained
British actors, he shines at comedy. It’s a great compliment to Gabbai and
Moshonov to say that while Stewart may steal virtually every scene in which he
appears, he doesn’t walk away with the film. These actors become the Three
Musketeers of bilingual schtick.
The plot has been carefully constructed
to draw in younger viewers who won’t know these older actors. It’s about a young
teen, Yonatan (Gil Blank), whose father (Zvika Hadar), a bank security expert,
dies suddenly of a heart attack. The evil bank manager (Moshe Ivgy) won’t pay
the father’s pension to his widow, Dorit (Yael Abecassis, doing her best to look
like an unglamorous mom), due to a technicality. Much to her son’s dismay, she
starts dating the bank manager. She also tries to reconnect with Eliyahu
(Gabbai), her long-estranged father-in-law, who lives in an old people’s
home. Yonatan starts spending time there with his grandfather and his
grandfather’s crony (Moshonov). The highlight of their day is watching
the sexy healthcare aide, Sigi (Rotem Zussman), give sponge baths to comatose
patients, one of whom is the boy’s grandmother. Eliyahu met his now
ailing wife when he robbed a bank, and she was an English girl living in
Jerusalem, apparently pre-1948, which only makes sense because the plot needs a
way to bring in Patrick Stewart, who plays the boy’s great-uncle.
Stewart makes his entrance, the formulaic plot and exaggerated characters are a
bit flat, but he injects the film with life and flamboyance. His role is a
series of comic bits, one of the best of which is a flashback to him in England
performing in a Star Wars-themed version of Hamlet (you can find this clip on
Stewart plays a lord and failed actor who is broke and has even
sold his title to pay the bills. Between the two old Israelis’ criminal
background, Stewart’s talent for making an impression and deceiving people, and
the boy’s knowledge of the bank’s security system, which his father was kind
enough to explain to him in detail just before he died, it’s the perfect set-up
for a caper movie.
If you can sit back and enjoy the comedy routines –
Stewart convincing the bank clerk he just needs a loan for a few incidentals,
Moshonov pretending to be a nervous old guy worried that the bank is being
robbed (they use this “crying wolf” ploy to get the security guards off their
game), Stewart doing a music-hall turn at the old people’s home, and Gabbai
sparring verbally with his old and new friends – then you’ll enjoy the movie.
Subtle it’s not, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a skilled blend of
crowd-pleasing bravura star turns and comic set pieces.
Levi , who made
Lost Islands, a melodrama that was quite popular here a few years ago, is an
accomplished showman and has made an entertaining comedy.
Hebrew title: Latzud Pilim
Written and directed by Reshef Levi
With Sasson Gabbai, Moni Moshonov, Patrick Stewart, Moshe Ivgy, Yael Abecassis
Running time: 96 minutes.
In Hebrew and English.
theaters for subtitle information