This re-make of the 1927 pioneering 'talkie' of the same name stars Neil Diamond as the Rabbi's son who wants to be a pop singer. This runs counter to his father's (Laurence Olivier) wishes, who had hoped he would follow in his footsteps as Cantor in the Synagogue. A struggle between familial responsibility and religious duty thus ensues.
Back in 1927, The Jazz Singer
entered the history books as the first true, sound-on-film talking picture, with Al Jolson uttering the immortal words, "You ain't heard nothing yet!" But even then it was a creakingly sentimental old yarn. By the time this second remake showed up in 1980 (there was a previous one in 1953) it looked as ludicrously dated as a chaperone in a strip club. Our young hero, played by pop singer Neil Diamond in a doomed bid for movie stardom, is the latest in a long line of Jewish cantors, but secretly moonlights with a Harlem soul group. When his strictly Orthodox father (Laurence Olivier, complete with painfully hammy "oya-veh" accent) finds out, the expected ructions follow. Though the lad makes it big in showbiz, it all means nothing while he's cut off from family and roots. But in the end--well, you can guess, can't you? Diamond comes across as likeable enough in a bland way, but unencumbered by acting talent, and the music business has never looked so squeaky clean--nary a trace of drugs, and precious little sex or rock 'n' roll. As for anything sounding remotely like jazz, forget it. This is one story that should have been left to slumber in the archives. --Philip Kemp