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Hollywood Ending

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hollywood Ending

Starring: Woody Allen, Debra Messing
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Treat Williams, George Hamilton, Tea Leoni, Mark Rydell

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1 star out of 4

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 job.

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 sound?

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

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