ACTOR TAKES INFINITI ON A TOUR DE FORCE

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There are the oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Obies, Golden Globes, People's Choice; you can scarcely turn around without running into a chance for actors to receive a gilded statuette.

Then there are the Clios, One Show, American Advertising Awards, Ad Age's Best Awards, Cannes International Advertising Festival, Andys, Effies and 100 other chances to win trophies for TV commercials.

So how can it be there are no awards whatsoever for acting in television commercials? True, the dialogue seldom exceeds 75 words, but so what? Haiku has only 17 syllables; that isn't poetry?

It hardly seems fair that everyone knows who Keanu Reeves is, and he is a terrible actor. But who knows Ian Gomez, the guy who turned around in the Bud Light spot and said, "First time in a limo . . . DOC-tah?" Or Michael David Lally, the dad in last year's Macintosh spot who tried, haltingly, to explain the physics of the curveball? Or John McIntosh, who stars in a new spot for Infiniti from TBWA Chiat/Day?

Yes, gone is Jonathan Pryce, musing over the prestige conferred by Infiniti in the most vulgar terms of conspicuous consumption. Gone are the pretentious parties and moody street scenes and tuxedoed tours of product features. Long gone are the rocks-and-trees zen spirituality.

The new campaign is a series of comic vignettes about Infinit(e) owner satisfaction, and in the best of the three, McIntosh is the star. He has all of three lines, but no matter. It's a tour de force.

The scene is an airport, where, while going through security, McIntosh realizes another traveler has accidentally picked up his car keys. This leads to a frantic chase, an improbable sprint down a jetway with a flying leap toward the departing jumbo jet, and a wild scramble through the cargo hold, up a dumbwaiter and into the first-class cabin. There, sooty, sweaty and sucking wind, he takes the seat next to his inadvertent adversary.

Then he juts his head toward the guy, panting, with an expression of disgust and barely controlled rage. He seems to be about to say something threatening, or abusive. But when the words come out, all he says is: "You have my keys."

Then the voice-over: "Infiniti. Own one, and you'll understand."

Thanks substantially to McIntosh's (and director Joe Pytka's) patience and restraint with one ordinary line of dialogue, this is by far the best spot in the campaign. Another, a "War of the Roses" takeoff, gives us a spoiled rich guy faced with losing half of his property in a divorce. So he spitefully takes a chainsaw to his furniture, piano, pool table, artwork, etc., before heading for the garage with an acetylene torch. But at the prospect of harming his Infiniti, he says, "On second thought, maybe we can work this out."

No statuette for that performance, which is an anticlimactic ending to a broad, obvious and derivative commercial. Likewise the third spot, featuring Victoria Jackson as the disconsolate young widow, Courtney (OK, that's funny), at the funeral of her rich, 97-year-old husband. Jackson chews the scenery as she wails in grief, but the flimsy punch line is that she's wailing over the car, which the old guy is being buried inside of.

Comic overstatement has its merits, of course. But when they hand out the first Bobby Award for commercial acting, overstatement will be sucking wind, and comic understatement will be mining gold.

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