‘Hunters’ review: Al Pacino and Logan Lerman open a killin’-Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-booming.

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They have it coming, over and over and forever, and there’s always money to be made in the “killin’-Nazi business,” as Brad Pitt’s avenging hillbilly angel put it in “Inglourious Basterds.”

In the crazily mixed bag of a new Amazon series called “Hunters,” business is a-booming. Premiering Friday, the show has it all, in every direction: some fine, crafty performances in and among dubious comic relief; sadistic payback, preceded by quotations from Elie Wiesel; references to “Encyclopedia Brownstein.” In one scene, mashing up the series’ tonal clashes but good, a Coney Island dance number set to the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is interrupted by the ghost of a concentration camp survivor, silently imploring her grandson to wake up and do something about a creeping Nazi menace in 1977-era America.

Under the wing of executive producer Jordan Peele, “Hunters” creator David Weil imagines an unlikely team of vigilantes based in New York City. Logan Lerman, working hard and valiantly to activate the lead role, stars as 19-year-old Brooklyn boy Jonah Heidelbaum. Jonah works in a comics shop while dealing marijuana on the side. In the first of five episodes, Jonah’s sole surviving relative, grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), is killed in an apparent, random burglary. He can’t shake her last words, spoken in defiance to her assailant: “You can’t hide.”

Jonah falls in with an eccentric underground band of Nazi hunters, spearheaded by the mysterious financier Meyer Offerman, played by marquee headliner Al Pacino, in aggressive mutter mode. Like Ruth, Meyer survived the death camps, and his mission of revenge becomes as consuming as the series’ devotion to “Star Wars,” Batman and Robin and (bonus points here) the short-lived sitcom “Me and the Chimp.”

Somber in the margins, glib at its core, “Hunters” establishes a “Jewperhero” origin story (the script’s phrase, not mine) as Jonah is skeptically taken in by Meyer’s gang. There’s a former MI-6 agent turned nun (Kate Mulvany); a “Foxy Brown”-inspired Black Power activist (Tiffany Boone); a Vietnam veteran (Louis Ozawa Changchien) coping with PTSD; a would-be Lothario and B-minus-level movie star (Josh Radnor) with tales of Studio 54 excess at the ready; and the resident Jewish Bickersons, Murray and Mindy — played in terrific performances by Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane — who are Holocaust survivors and code-breaking experts.

The hunters do not go undetected. In Cape Canaveral, Florida, FBI agent Millie Malone (Jerrika Hinton) works with local authorities on the grotesque murder of a NASA scientist. Subsequent episodes bring Malone closer to Jonah and an incipient Fourth Reich, masterminded by The Colonel, a vision of hell on heels, portrayed by Lena Olin. This is the sort of adversary unthinkable outside the influence of Quentin Tarantino, or any number of medium-grade graphic novels, for better or worse. Or both: better, since Olin’s great at smiling through all sorts of evil; and worse, because the slick, brutal flamboyance of the character’s conception has a way of taking our minds off the violence and nationalist rage in the culture today, rather than speaking to it directly.

But that would take work, in terms of the writing. It’s easier to focus on an implacable Aryan psycho killer, played by Greg Austin, whose torture scenes are genuinely repellent. Well, of course, you say. He’s a Nazi assassin. But this is where creator Weil, and the first few episodes of “Hunters,” run into trouble.

Half the time “Hunters” is out for adolescent thrills and laughs; the other half is spent with Auschwitz flashbacks and Pacino’s legato murmuring about the exterminated Jewish millions serving as “the judge and jury.” The intermingling of real-world horror and fantasy revenge is nothing new, and when it works, it can rattle audiences in the best possible way. (Executive producer Peele’s own “Get Out” and “Us” are prime recent examples.) “Hunters” is far from sloppy, and it’s rarely dull. The various directors and cinematographers involved lend it a unifying sheen. Now and then you’ll find a terrific opening or closing shot to a sequence, such as the uneasily tilted overview of sunbathers on a Brooklyn rooftop.

I’ll readily admit it: If I was ever in the mood to have this sort of fun with this subject matter, that time has passed. My teenaged moviegoing brought me plenty of Nazi-hunting, in pulp ranging from “Marathon Man”1976) and “The Boys From Brazil” (1978), with Laurence Olivier lending class and a lesson in ham dialect to both sides of the Nazi/Jew character roster. It’s easy to see why executive producer Peele saw the potential in “Hunters.” Part of what made his own social thrillers “Get Out” and “Us” work so well, and find such a huge audience, ties directly into a crafty, sick, fundamentally serious sense of humor.

Here, though, it’s more a case of misjudged satire and mood-swing whiplash, as when the action (in episode four) cross-cuts between a concentration camp escape flashback and a Swiss bank heist straight out of an “Ocean’s Eleven” prequel. It takes a long time for our hero to wake up and smell the Nazis. “Let your anger feed you,” Pacino’s Meyer instructs him, like Yoda. “Hunters” doesn’t deal with homegrown fascism, the way the more ruminative Amazon series “The Man in the High Castle” did. It’s closer in spirit, tone and bloodthirstiness to the “Kingsman” pictures. As much time as Jonah spends wrestling with his conscience in “Hunters,” “Hunters” itself doesn’t wrestle with much beyond thinking it’d be cool to juxtapose Robert Goulet singing “The Impossible Dream” with disco-era Nazi depravity.

Weil’s fantasy offers easy, righteous catharsis amid unthinkable atrocity. And that is how you make money in the killin’-Nazi business.

“Hunters” premieres Friday on Amazon Prime Video.


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