Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Hear the beat…of dancing feet. And who could have imagined that it’s the sound of Barbara Walters’ rhythm-challenged peds of lead as she makes hokey hand gestures and sings, heroically offkey, the show-stop ping number from 42nd Street?

Miss Walters, not known for her thick skin or her sense of humor, or for showing off her imperfections, is a delightful shocker in this big, crowd-pleasing public service campaign to celebrate “The New York Miracle.”

The campaign, from BBDO and the New York mayor’s office, is also the sound of major celebs and creatives and production people coming together quickly to do good. And given that the spots are so BBDO—star power, broad humor, special effects and big punch lines—and include a twinkly invitational kicker from Mayor Giuliani, the general media is eating them up.

That’s because it’s hard to have a politically correct laugh nowadays. (Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to laugh publicly at the thought of Geraldo undercover.) So it’s no wonder TV shows have jumped at producing lengthy segments that showcase three or four of the spots at a time.

And “eating them up” is the operative expression here. These spots are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food—mac and cheese (but not too cheesy), with a bit of a sophis ticated, but definitely homemade, crust. They are also the 21st-century equivalent of the USO show, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour for the post-ironic age.

Yet there is a sweetness, an optimism and an energy in the spots that suggest an earlier, more innocent time. That’s especially true of the Woody Allen piece, set at that major tourist attraction, the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center. We see a serious little hatted fellow in a short jacket, tie and khaki pants, skating his heart out to schmaltzy music. After double and triple lutzes the likes of which would make Tara Lipinksi proud, we see the skater’s face as he turns toward the camera. It’s the Woodman himself, with his big black trademark glasses, saying, “You aren’t going to believe this. This was the first time I put on skates in my life!” Suddenly, all the accumulated scandal of his recent life fades away and he’s Alvy Singer, as wry, sweet and energetic as he ever seemed in the days of directing and starring in movies like Manhattan.

A stunt double is also involved in the Henry Kissinger commercial, in which he’s shown in an empty Yankee Stadium, running the bases and sliding into home. The subtle nursery-style version of “Take Me out to the Ballgame” really works here. The final reveal of Herr Doktor Henry is hilarious, but the running-man double looks more like Bill Clinton in his porked-out days. In another spot, Yogi Berra conducts a completely atonal symphony, then turns to the camera and asks, “Who the heck is Phil Harmonic?”

My favorite (and the only one in which the script was written by the actors) was directed by Barry Levinson and features Billy Crystal as an unhappy turkey and Rob ert De Niro as a method-acting pilgrim. (The hard-bitten star of Taxi Driver actually asks the turkey, “Are you gobbling at me?”)

The campaign works on several levels. It offers the immediate pleasure of seeing these stars, along with the joke that they too are still pur suing their dreams—that there’s always more work to be done here in New York. And then, of course, it encourages a visit in a more sophisticated way than clips of the Rockettes or Times Square would. Most of all, the spots manage to be celebratory—almost magical—at a time when that’s not so easily accomplished.

But let’s go to a guy not known for his charitable nature: Woody Allen. At the press conference unveiling the spots, he remarked, “I’m just thankful it wasn’t a humiliation.” As the tag line tells us, “Everyone has a New York dream.”