CAST AWAY THE HARD FEELINGS! SEINFELD SHINES IN AMEX AD

Garfield's Ad Review: 3 1/2 Stars

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This is nominally about Jerry Seinfeld and his wonderful new commercial for American Express Co., but really it's an expression of fairness, honor, restraint and incredible strength of character.

Ours.

It is a noble Ad Review staff, indeed, that has waited until now to review Seinfeld's AmEx spots, even though we bear a heavy personal grudge against the man and could easily have written about his previous spots, all of which, to quote Pliny, "really sucked bigtime."

Yet we have uttered not a word, despite that horrific night five years ago, when we shared a Chicago stage with the then-obscure comic in the midst of grotesque audio problems. The static and feedback were so severe that the audience could not hear the staff's string of devastatingly hilarious bon mots, and therefore did not double over laughing. That's when Seinfeld, with faux compassion, used the one working microphone to say what he knew not to be true: "Don't worry, Bob. We know you didn't write this material."

The bastard. We briefly considered vengeance, but with our typical perspicacity (for instance, we took San Diego and the points) we wrote him off as a soon-to-be non-entity. Approximately 5 minutes later, he debuted in the best sitcom on TV.

And now here he is as the spokesman for the green card, a role that has to date fluctuated between undistinguished and embarrassing. The latest, however, is a winner for him, for AmEx and for Ogilvy & Mather, New York. The spot is called "Rags to Riches II," a remake of a 1968 classic about a bedraggled castaway washing up on a Polynesian island with little but a three-day growth of beard and his American Express card. Within 24 hours, after flashing his card to previously condescending desk clerks, tailors and maitre d's, "Charles Frost" was fed, groomed, outfitted and whisked to civilization in a private jet.

The original was cut for suspense and wry humor. The remake, featuring our nemisis Jerry, is cut for comedy. It's premised on a stand-up comic having slipped overboard from a cruise ship where he was the showroom headliner. But when he washes up on the beach, the gags begin.

"Hot! Hot! Hot!" he gasps, hopping on the blazing (wet!?) sand, a la a 1990 Pepsi spot. At the restaurant, the captain's look is not quite as dismissive as the original's, but Jerry's gluttony is played broad. With a luncheon feast spread before him, and a tropical-drink straw in his mouth, he signals with both hands for more, more, more. Later, when the desk clerk asks him if he wants an ocean view, Jerry's stage-whispered "I don't think so" drips hilariously with irony and contempt.

And later, safely returned to the cruise ship and rushing to his gig, he passes a "Slippery when wet" sign on the deck and says, "That is so true!" Very funny, as is a bit when he rents a car and gets the Porsche keys shot at him before he can even finish his sentence.

It's all quite delightful, and finally a platform worthy of both Seinfeld and AmEx. Previous spots were so overwrought that the point-the ease, confidence and power attendant to using the green card-was utterly lost.

Here, like the comedian castaway and our nearly breath-taking personal dignity, it is fabulously restored to its erstwhile place in the spotlight.

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