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Mighty Aphrodite

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Mighty Aphrodite

Starring: Mira Sorvino, Woody Allen
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: R
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 1995
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

*Also starring: F. Murray Abraham, Steven Randazzo, Rosemary Murphy, Peter Weller, Olympia Dukakis, Jack Warden, Helena Bonham Carter, David Ogden Stiers

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

MIGHTY APHRODITE is an innovative, funny, but slow Woody Allen comedy that Woody wrote, directed, and stars in. In the movie, Lenny Weinrib (Woody Allen) is a sportswriter married to an up and coming art gallery manager and would be owner, Amanda Sloane (Helena Bonham-Carter). Amanda is an attractive young wife, and Lenny is an older, frail husband with thinning hair, pale skin and millions of lines in his face. From the very beginning there is no chemistry between the two leads, but the audience is supposed to assume that there once was. Amanda is obsessed with getting her own gallery whereas Lenny is content hanging out with his sports pals talking about boxing and basketball.

When Amanda announces that she wants a baby but through adoption since she does not want to undergo the inconvenience of pregnancy, Lenny is upset. He says, "Adopt. What. I don't want to adopt. Not with my genes. I have award winning genes." Given how old and unhealthy Woody appears in this movie, these lines bear a special poignancy.

Soon they adopt a baby (Max), and by age 5 he is clearly brilliant. Max and his father converse a lot. In one of these interchanges, Max asks, "Who is the boss between you and mommy?" Lenny taking offense, replies, "Who is the boss? You have to ask that? I'm the boss. Mommy is only the decision maker."

Max's intellectual capacity sends Lenny off in a quest to find Max's real mother since Max's father is dead. Lenny wants to know Max's true lineage. Not surprisingly, the mother (Mira Sorvino from BARCELONA and BLUE IN THE FACE) turns out to be less that Lenny had hoped. He finds Max's mom is a porn star turned hooker who has many names, some unprintable, but as a prostitute, she is now known as Linda Ash. She comes from a family full of serial rapists, drug pushers, and worse.

Lenny decides to take care of Linda and even attempts to arrange a relationship with her and one of his young fighter friends, Kevin (Michael Rapaport). Lenny believes that given their good looks combined with an equal lack of intelligence they are made for each other. Linda in her crazy high pitched voice says at one point, "I'm not religious either. Both of my folks were Episcopalians." Kevin is so dumb he can barely even construct a full sentence. Together their IQs would not add up to more two digits.

The innovative part of MIGHTY APHRODITE is a Greek chorus that appears frequently to give Lenny advice. The Greek chorus (Dick Hyman Chorus) is lead by F. Murray Abraham and has Danielle Ferland as Cassandra. The chorus is dressed in traditional robes and masks (by Jeffrey Kurland) and is shown in an ancient Greek amphitheater. Sometimes they start off with parts of what appears to be an Euripides play, but soon they are speaking vintage Woody with words like "unthunk" and bursting into song (including "When you're smiling") and dance. For me, the chorus is one of the highlights of the show. It is a fresh approach that is a lot of fun. One of my favorite characters in the movie is Cassandra and her best piece of dialog is "I see disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers!" Another time, the chorus calls on the great god Zeus to get advice, but gets his answering machine instead.

The problem with MIGHTY APHRODITE is that it is like a first grader learning to read. He pronounces each individual letter slowly yet is unable to form them into a word. Here the dialog is great in pockets, but there are no characters to care about to keep the audience's interest in between humor. There are four or more putative love stories in the movie, but none of them are believable. These problems are mainly with Woody's direction and script, but the actors own some of the blame.

Rapaport is pathetic and delivers a caricature of a dumb boxer. He is an actor from MONEY FOR NOTHING and other films where he has yet to demonstrate he has the chosen the right career path for himself. Maybe he can box? Sorvino gave a fairly good performance as an airhead, but Nicole Kidman in TO DIE FOR shows how this role can be done much better. The biggest disappointment for me was Helena Bonham-Carter (from many movies, but my favorite is LADY JANE). Her love interest in fellow art gallery owner Jerry Bender (Peter Weller) could have been much better developed and could have provided some real tension and actual romance in the movie. Instead, most of the show is played only for the cheap laughs. A real opportunity missed. Finally, Woody is Woody, but a tired and sad looking Woody.

The sets by Santo Loquasto are pretty outlandish. The hooker's apartment is decorated as a garden of pornographic kitsch. The cinematography (Carlo DiPalma) is straightforward with the exception of one wonderful scene at night of Lenny and Amanda in a New York City taxicab. Lenny is unhappy with his marriage, and he looks at an attractive and happy couple nearby with melancholy and wistful eyes. These brief images form the best scene in the show.

MIGHTY APHRODITE only runs 1:30, but if the editor (Susan Morris) had done a little tighter editing, perhaps she could have prevented the show from dragging so often. The movie is rated PG-13 for extremely explicit references to all kinds of bizarre sexual behavior. There is no nudity or violence. The movie would be probably okay for mature teenagers, but the dialog is laced with pornographic movie quality rhetoric. For a great Greek chorus and for a lot of good laughs, I give MIGHTY APHRODITE a mild thumbs up, but I was disappointed by it. It had the potential for so much more. It gets ** 1/2 in my book.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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