At first it looks like "Hollywood Ending" will operate on two levels: as
a relationship comedy and as a satire of big-time, big ego, studio
filmmaking. But the Woody Allen movie addresses both topics in only the
most obvious, paint-by-numbers fashion, derailed by an idiotic, utterly
needless plot gimmick that sends the production careening into a morass
of lame puns and second rate physical shtick.
After "Small Time Crooks" and "The Curse of Jade Scorpion," it is clear
that Allen has entered a new phase in his career. His ambition
dissipated, he appears content to crank out safe little comedies;
cinematic doodles that offer mild entertainment for his core audience
and earn just enough to insure continued studio funding. Of his
latter-day offerings, "Hollywood Ending" is the weakest yet.
Allen plays Val Waxman, a neurotic, New York-based, Oscar-winning
director who has fallen from grace (what a stretch) and is now relegated
to shooting deodorant commercials in the wintry Canadian wilds. His
chance at redemption comes when his ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni) manages to
convince her new beau, studio boss Hal (Treat Williams), to consider
letting Val helm a $60 million re-make of an old film-noir flick.
Despite the misgivings of studio exec Ed (George Hamilton) and a meeting
in NYC that would be deemed disastrous by real world standards, Val gets
The prospect of working for the man who stole his wife away is less than
alluring to Val (looking for any other option, he cries out "Any word on
that TV movie - that interracial, abortion, gene-splicing movie?"), but
his agent Al (Mark Rydell) and live-in girlfriend Lori (Debra Messing)
convince him to accept.
Despite the shakiness of his position, Val starts pushing the limits. He
hires a Mandarin-speaking cinematographer (Lu Yu) who can communicate
with him only through a translator (Barney Cheng) and secures a part in
the film for Lori (the quite lean young woman immediately lights out for
a spa to "get rid of all this fat" before production begins), hiding
their relationship from the powers that be.
Then, mere days before the start of principal photography, Val comes
down with a case of hysterical blindness and the movie turns into a
half-ass sitcom. Why Allen felt the need for such a ridiculous gimmick
is beyond me. His initial set-up provided him plenty to work with.
Surely he could have wrung some laughs from presenting an egocentric
independent director trying to work within the studio system as his
ex-wife, her too-smooth-for-words new lover and his yes-man hovered
nearby, all while keeping the identity of his ditzy girlfriend a secret.
But this isn't enough for Allen, so any chance at character development
gets shot to hell in order to afford Woody the chance to play blind. And
what's even more annoying is the fact that he's bad at it. While the
wince-inducing puns fly ("I'm sure he has a vision," "He can do this
material with his eyes closed," yadda, yadda), Val enlists the aid of
Al, the translator and finally, a very reluctant Ellie in hiding his
condition from the cast, crew and executives.
Watching Allen do blind man shtick is beyond painful, especially in a
scene where Val has a crucial one-on-one meeting with Hal. Throughout
their long exchange, Val constantly stares blankly away from the studio
head, who grows increasingly irritated at the director's apparent
refusal to look at him while they are talking. I grew increasingly
irritated as well. Why wasn't Val at least aiming his face in Hal's
direction? Obviously he could hear his voice, so why not turn toward the
The answer to that question, by the way, is not "Because it's funnier."
It isn't. The scene is as strained as it is stupid.
While Allen persists in doing his sub-community theater blind routine,
the rest of the cast barely breaks a sweat. Téa Leoni, Mark Rydell,
Treat Williams and Barney Cheng do what they can to anchor the nonsense.
A brittle performance from Debra Messing and an incongruous one from
Jodie Markell as an Esquire reporter simply increase the groan factor.
"Hollywood Ending" is toothless, flat and only occasionally amusing,
thanks in large part to its needless and poorly executed gimmick. The
only thing Woody Allen manages to do is create exactly the kind of film
he purportedly intended to satirize. To employ the type of pun the
screenplay wallows in, his efforts here are remarkably shortsighted.
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott