Billy Crystal brought his signature Borscht Belt shtick to the 84th Academy Awards. He was no Ricky Gervais. His one-liners mostly lacked zip, his singing was howling bad and his presentation plodded. But he also had his moments.
In what has to be one of the most thankless jobs in Hollywood, Crystal hosted the Academy Awards for the ninth time and was almost as predicable as the winners.
The comedian was a late entry after original host, Eddie Murphy, abruptly quit. He left after producer Brett Ratner, a Murphy pal, who had directed him in “Tower Heist,” was fired following his use of a homophobic slur.
And, while Crystal seemed as familiar, and about as welcome, as an insurance salesman to younger viewers, the room loved him, even if critics were deconstructing his act before the show was over. In some of the biggest slights for a comedian, Crystal was called boring, “showing his age” and racially insensitive.
“The whole introductory sequence felt like a pallid sequel – a ghost of Oscars past – and not solely because the host had to labor to incorporate nine nominees,” said Variety, the industry newspaper.
“Billy Crystal tweeted before the show, ‘Opening number changed. War Horse broke his leg, had to put him down.’ Funnier line than anything onstage now,” blogged Deadline Hollywood‘s Nikki Finke.
But compared to last year’s hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Crystal at the very least was refreshingly competent. Somewhere along the way, however, he failed to get the memo on political correctness.
He raised eyebrows with several racially tinged jokes, and his appearance in black face as the late entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr. drew howls of criticism. In the era of social media, Twitter is a barometer of viewer sentiment, and it exploded with scathing comments.
Crystal was at his best when he bashed the industry, and his frankness on those occasions were genuinely funny. After, Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for “The Help,” he quipped: “After I saw The Help I just wanted to hug the first black woman I saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.”
With Kodak on the ropes financially, the Kodak Theater, where the show was held, suddenly had a new name. “We’re here at the beautiful Chapter 11 Theater,” Crystal said, in reference to its financial woes.
Crystal threw mostly softballs at the audience, but his change-up came with this quip: “Nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other.”
He deserves a C+ on the night. What do you think?