'Hunters' Is So Flashy, Pacino Pales In Comparison Al Pacino is the marquee attraction in Hunters, Amazon's new show about Nazi hunters in the 1970s — but the story is splashy and electric enough that he's not the most interesting thing in it.
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Flashy, Splashy 'Hunters' Is More Fun Than It Should Be

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Flashy, Splashy 'Hunters' Is More Fun Than It Should Be

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TV Reviews

Flashy, Splashy 'Hunters' Is More Fun Than It Should Be

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A band of scrappy investigators in the 1970s unearths a secret cabal of Nazis in the Amazon Prime drama "Hunters." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show, which debuts today, is unique, so much so that Al Pacino's presence in the cast isn't the most interesting thing about it. And be warned - there are spoilers ahead.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Hunters" opens with a scene that couldn't be more steeped in Americana - a backyard cookout held by the U.S. Under Secretary of State Biff Simpson.

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DYLAN BAKER: (As Biff Simpson) Biff Jr., kiddo, lay off your sister or no "Six Million Dollar Man" tonight.

DEGGANS: But when a guest's Jewish wife realizes who he really is...

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Call the police. Call the police.

DEGGANS: Biff reveals he was once a Nazi officer in World War II just before silencing her for good.

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BAKER: (As Biff Simpson) I'm so glad I didn't gas you in the camps. This is so much more delicious.

DEGGANS: It's a flamboyant, surreal scene with expert scenery-chewing by Dylan Baker playing Biff. It also epitomizes the tone of "Hunters," a story about a group of investigators tracking down Nazis hiding in the U.S. during the mid-1970s. At times, the action is flashy as a comic book as producers, including Jordan Peele, present a story about Nazi-hunting that feels like Batman meets "The Dirty Dozen" as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Each member of the team is a screwball specialist, from a working actor/disguise artist to a husband-wife team of weapons experts. Such stories often use a newbie character. As others explain the situation to him, they also explain it to the audience. In "Hunters," that character is Logan Lerman's Jonah Heidelbaum, a comic book store clerk in New York who debates with his buddies' naive ideas about heroism and villainy centered on "Star Wars" bad guy Darth Vader.

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LOGAN LERMAN: (As Jonah Heidelbaum) Vader doesn't get up every day looking to destroy the galaxy. No, no. He gets up every morning believing he needs to save it.

HENRY HUNTER HALL: (As Sherman Johnson) Yeah, but he's still a murderer, dude.

CALEB EMERY: (As Arthur McGuigan) Yeah.

HALL: (As Sherman Johnson) So is Batman, Booty.

LERMAN: (As Jonah Heidelbaum) The only difference between a hero and a villain is who sells more costumes at Halloween.

DEGGANS: It's not long before Jonah's simple cynicism is turned on its head. His grandmother is killed inside their home, and Jonah meets a man who knew her when they were both in prison in a Nazi concentration camp, Al Pacino's wealthy businessman Meyer Offerman. Turns out Jonah's safta - Hebrew for grandmother - worked with Meyer as part of a secret group unmasking Nazis hiding in America.

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AL PACINO: (As Meyer Offerman) We survived the war. We survived the greatest mass eradication in modern history. And we arrive home to find the people who did this to us - they are our neighbors. So tell me, what should we do?

DEGGANS: I'm guessing he won't just shake their hands and offer forgiveness, especially since the Nazis have a secret plot of their own underway. The messages in "Hunters" are subtle as a sledgehammer, so the secret Nazis crow about how Americans are too busy fighting amongst themselves to see them coming. Pacino is the marquee name here, but Logan Lerner's (ph) Jonah is the show's backbone as he struggles over the moral question of seeking vengeance.

"Hunters" also features visceral, horrifying flashbacks to scenes in concentration camps, including a brutal chess game where prisoners are used as living game pieces and executed. That somber tone can feel jarring compared to the lighter comic book feel of other scenes, but as authoritarian leaders rise in real life across the globe, "Hunters" speaks to the dangers of being too complacent about the strength of democracy and forgetting the bitter lessons of the Holocaust.

I'm Eric Deggans.

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