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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Celebrity

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genre: Comedy

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

Woody Allen's "Celebrity" reminded me a little too much of his soporific "Stardust Memories," which was also filmed in black-and-white and concentrated on the nature of celebrities. This film is superior but suffers from the same lack of comic energy and enthusiasm. For the first time since his overrated comic segment in "New York Stories," I felt Woody's heart was not in the right place for this material.

"Celebrity" stars Kenneth Branagh as celebrity hound and interviewer Lee Simon, who drives an Astor Martin to attract and have sex with all the female celebrities, while getting the scoop on their precious moments of fame and recognition. He gets oral pleasure from a famous actress (Melanie Griffith - less annoying than usual), and he gives a brief moment of orgasmic pleasure to a model (thrillingly played by Charlize Theron). What he really wants to do is write a novel about celebrities, but he lacks the self-confidence to finish it, even with the help of a sexy book editor (Famke Janssen).

Lee is not a happy person, though, and lacks self-control. He regretfully divorced the shrilly Robin (Judy Davis), a schoolteacher who is afraid to deal with life after divorce. She resorts to religious retreats and superstar plastic surgeons, yet the answer may lie with a TV producer, Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna). Robin decides to work for him at a busy TV station where she meets an assortment of talk show guests, including skinheads, overweight people, Hasidic jews, and a prostitute (Bebe Newirth). The latter shows her how to perform oral sex by using a banana (a witty take-off on Madonna's famously similar oral display in "Truth or Dare"). In the process, Robin becomes a TV celebrity host.

There are many good jokes in Woody's latest opus. My favorite is Charlize Theron's sleepy, sexually polymorphous model (a bit cribbed from "Annie Hall") who brings everythingto a halt when she appears- she could be the next Sharon Stone (who appeared in "Stardust Memories"). I also loved the gala movie opening where Lee sees a famous director (Andre Gregory) who makes "arty, pretentious movies in black-and-white". There's also a vivid sequence involving Leonardo DiCaprio as a superstar actor who trashes hotel rooms and beats up his girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) - he makes such a startlingly violent 10-minute entrance that it is a real shame when he exits. And there are several quips about novelists, particularly one moment where Lee sleeps with one of DiCaprio's escorts, who insists that she writes `like Chekov'.

The central figure in "Celebrity" is the nervous chatterer Robin Simon, played with pitch-perfect precision by the indomitable Judy Davis. Her character is a wounded soul searching for meaning in her universe, and she has her reservations about getting married again. Her character is so real, so vivid, so humane that it is a shame Woody didn't invest the same interest in the other characters.

For example, there is the crucial Lee Simon role (played by Kenneth Branagh), who is miscast and obviously uncomfortable with mimicking Woody's famous tics and neurotic stutters. His role is severely underwritten, lacking any of the pathos or charm that Woody would have brought to it. Branagh is better off in Shakespeare country, or when he commands an American accent in his own work, such as "Dead Again." The aforementioned Charlize Theron disappears too soon, as well as the comic fury of DiCaprio.

Still, there's an element of bewitching attitude and class to Winona Ryder as Lee's girlfriend, a promiscuous actress who can't commit to one man. The virtually unrecognizable Bebe Newirth is also exceedingly good as the soft-spoken prostitute. Joe Mantegna brings back the suave coolness that he brought to Allen's thoughtful Alice, which also starred Judy Davis.

"Celebrity" is a good film, but it doesn't have the manic, furious energy of "Deconstructing Harry" or "Husbands and Wives," one of his greatest films. It is surprisingly chaste and unscrupulous in its attack and commentary on modern-day celebrities. With its abrupt ending and uneven characterizations, "Celebrity" is simply filler until the next great Woody Allen film.

Copyright 1998 Jerry Saravia

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