Early in Paramount Plus’ new limited series “The Offer,” movie mogul Robert Evans is delivering a soliloquy about the moment he discovered his destiny. “It was magic,” he declares. “Real magic. I knew right then and there this was my calling. That darkened movie theater became my church.”
As played by Matthew Goode, Evans is a real fake — a glottal-voiced fellow who convinces himself, first, of the pabulum he pitches others. And his declaration of movie madness, the first but hardly the last such speech he’ll give over the run of “The Offer,” sits oddly against the show’s ambitions. This program insists that movies are important, and does so by pulping perhaps the most celebrated film of the second half of the twentieth century and using it as fuel for a diverting but hardly cinematic streaming series.
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Streaming-age Paramount Plus is looking back to New Hollywood Paramount Original Formula. And “The Offer” tells the story of the making of “The Godfather” — a smash at Evans’ Paramount, and in its moment the highest-grossing film ever made — from the perhaps unlikely perspective of its producer Albert Ruddy (Miles Teller). Ruddy isn’t the inventor of the story (that’d be Patrick Gallo’s Mario Puzo) or the man who marshalled it artistically (Dan Fogler’s Francis Ford Coppola). But he has two intrinsic qualities that make him perhaps an apt point-of-view character. First, he has a sort of governing super-intelligence that enables him to scoot from the Rand Corporation to Hollywood, where he, having done something like cracking the industry code, grows rich producing the formulaic sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.” Second, he has a flair for the dramatic, declaring that “I’m going to shoot myself in the face” if forced to make that successful series for five years. (An unstated third quality that makes Ruddy an apt choice for star of this show is that the real Ruddy is executive producing “The Offer.”)
Written by Michael Tolkin and Nikki Toscano, “The Offer” places Ruddy in collisions with various figures, known to movie buffs and not. Evans is a consistent high point, with Goode delivering a gaudily self-regarding turn as a mogul who could only enjoy success if he were performing it. Teller is a winning presence, even as his character’s proclamations of just how different he is from those willing to be satisfied with simple success grow wearying. And Juno Temple is predictably strong as Bettye McCartt, Ruddy’s assistant, even if one wishes there were more for her to do here. And the Puzo and Coppola characters, both struggling against ambivalence about the material as they write a new kind of Mafia story, are also pleasant company.
Less effective by far are scenes among real-life gangsters, including Giovanni Ribisi delivering a loopy and distracting performance as Joe Colombo. The crime-family boss objected to “The Godfather” being adapted for the screen and extracted concessions from the production — an interesting enough historical footnote. But Ribisi’s vocal affectations never let you forget that the actor is trying to look intimidating — and there’s nothing less intimidating than that.
“The Offer” also lacks the shrewd self-awareness of its source material — sure, it’s an unfair comparison, but the show itself necessarily invites it. Here, the gangsters never break free of formula. Puzo’s struggle to break out of classic mob-story techniques is drawn well; it’s ironic that the show barely even tries to do what the novelist and screenwriter did.
Overlong and lacking the snap of tight editing, “The Offer” is a decent idea for a show stretched far past the point of reason. (Some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that this show, with 10 roughly hourlong episodes, runs longer than the three “Godfather” films back-to-back-to-back.) It’s a fun sit that has the potential to teach viewers a thing or two — no bit of information more pronounced than Hollywood types’ tendency to self-mythologize. And as a nostalgia play, “The Offer” is perhaps too apt, as it is so unsuited to tell the story it’s telling that you’ll miss the original. Say this much: The main reaction you’ll have to “The Offer” — not an unpleasant one, but hardly an advertisement for the show’s virtues as anything but corporate synergistic product — is that it will make you wish you were watching “The Godfather.”
“The Offer” launches three episodes on Paramount Plus on Thursday, April 28, with new episodes following weekly.
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