Does it take a brave heart or just foolhardiness to attempt an acting comeback in a movie that Eddie Haskell would love?
Mel Gibson is about to find out; the bedeviled and besmirched actor of blue-eyed beauty and green-eyed hatred has taken to the screen in "The Beaver," portraying a diminished depressive damned by the world and divested of hope. Yet he inadvertently finds an outlet of expression by allowing a hand puppet — the title character — to deal with the world for him.
The actor rejected for a cameo role by the cast of "The Hangover 2" — now there's an appropriate sobriquet for his career — has found room in this comeback crusade, now at Ritz theaters, that fits like a glove.
After all, what else but an inanimate object would welcome Gibson back into a world he has constantly defamed since his unsobering experience in July 2006, when his DUI-inspired anti-Semitic rants and roars at a Pacific Coast Highway cop led him on a path to anywhere but heaven.
That Malibu mean street of an encounter suddenly made Mad Mel's career roadkill as the onetime star of "What Women Want" soon made it to the top of ADL's "Most Unwanted List."
And then there was his critically declaimed over-the-top voice-over work on behalf of his soured-on sweetheart Oksana Grigorieva, where racist raves and expletives undeleted erased any possible lingering compassion for the self-inflicted lethal weapon of an actor.
But … are there no second acts in life? Can the filmmaker whose impassioned "Passion of the Christ" set a torch to papal absolution of Jews in the killing of Jesus (most recently reiterated in Pope Benedict XVI's just published Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection,) find resurrection at the box office?
Second comings and second chances? It's not impossible — just look at Vanessa Redgrave's rejuvenation after her zealous Zionist-bash of an Oscar acceptance speech in 1978, in which the notoriously pro-Palestinian activist referred to Jewish Defense League pickets as "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums."
She's been in the Jewish 'hood since — making impressive starring turns as Jewish women in "Playing for Time," a 1980 CBS miniseries about Holocaust heroine Fania Fénelon, and, most recently, in Broadway's debut production of "Driving Miss Daisy," starring as the Jewish grand dame with not a damn trace of Southern comfort when it comes to suffering fools.
Indeed, anyone suggesting a paradox in the prickly performer with a history of taking part in anti-Israel demonstrations essaying such a Jewish role would meet up with dismissive contempt from Redgrave.
(Just ask the New York Times reporter who broached the topic with the actress recently.)
So, maybe time will heal the hell for Gibson, too — although it seems unlikely that central casting will ever consider him for a role as any Jew with a heart — brave or otherwise.
(Of course, shortly after his anti-Semitic tirade in 2006, Gibson announced his intention — perhaps as a mea culpa or maybe a Mad Max Mein Kampf — to make a movie about the Holocaust. That project has since been abandoned, like much of his common sense the past few years.)
But then, damn the consequences, along comes "The Beaver," proving that art and argument may be separated. I've always considered Gibson an outrageously talented actor — which he shows proof of here — if an outrage of an individual. How can such an insensitive slug of a human turn in such a finely felt portrayal of inward fury, portraying a failed suicide who keeps society at arm's length through the puppet on his hand?
It's called acting.
"Beaver" as deus ex machina for a real story of a tortured soul hell-bent on redemption? Sympathy for the sinner? Hate the man, honor the actor: Can Oscar oscillate, too?
Then there are the Gibson promises that have been left unkept. After the Pacific Coast Highway moral collision, Gibson had promised to attend a seder in a private Jewish setting to learn more about the people he pummeled while in his alcoholic stupidity of a stupor.
A few Passovers have passed since then. But there is the notion of Pesach Sheni — a minor holiday, evoking imagery of a second chance — celebrated on May 18.
Ever the optimist, coinciding with "The Beaver" opening, "On the Scene" put out an empty chair at last night's observance, just in case the erstwhile "Road Warrior" reclaimed his wayward path to the seder table.
Of course, neither did Elijah, who also had a seat awaiting him.
But at least he had the courtesy to call.