The Jazz Singer Richard Fleischer

Over top of a shot of New York City, Neil Diamond's "America" opens this second remake of the classic film. A song with such patriotic pride feels like the perfect soundtrack to a film about a Jewish cantor who defies the restrictions of his ethnicity to become a superstar. However, Fleischer's film immediately falls short the moment the legendary rocker hits the screen. Neil Diamond is no doubt a beloved rock icon, but at the age of 39, he was hardly the right choice for the role of Yussel Rabinovitch, aka Jess Robin (the WASP showbiz name he adopts). The story is of a man confined to a religious Jewish lifestyle who dreams to break free from his father's grip and follow his musical dream. The film loosely follows the original, starring Al Jolson, with the main focus of Jewish boy-cum-rock star still intact, but Fleischer updates the film for modern times with more concentration on Jess as a misunderstood soul who does what it takes to get what he wants. With a star who's pushing 40 playing a character who lives with and by his aging father's rules, the film loses its credibility; an actor half the age of Diamond should have been cast. It's also a giant step away from the same character Jolson perfected with such modesty and family devotion. Instead, Diamond comes off as self-absorbed and the weak character development turns the film more into a vehicle to push his music than a story with any emotion. Another sign of that intent is the fact that Diamond cannot act; his unconvincing delivery, lack of charisma and impassive nature are all too overwhelming to accept him portraying this character. Laurence Olivier, who plays his stern, traditional father, isn't much better, overacting in the serious moments and transforming them into irrational melodrama. Fleischer's film is plagued with way too many shortcomings. He gives Jess success not just in music but also in relationships with little to no struggles and truly misses the point of why the original was and still is such a powerful picture. The Jazz Singer may be celebrating 25 years of age, but it's for certain there aren't too many fans at this party. Plus: commentary, bio. (Anchor Bay)