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Awesome: 4.35%
Worth A Look: 26.09%
Pretty Bad: 13.04%
Total Crap: 4.35%

2 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Hollywood Ending
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by Erik Childress

"You're Only As Good As Your Last Film"
3 stars

They say hindsight is 20/20. As a fan of Woody Allen, it was particularly disheartening to suffer through last summer’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, arguably his worst film in a very long career. His latest, Hollywood Ending, is certainly not going to be remembered alongside his definitive works of the 70s and mid-80s, but it comes at a time when Allen certainly couldn’t have done something inferior. In Hollywood, if you’re truly only as good as your last work, than Woody had no where to go but North Miss Teschmacher. However if Annie Hall or Manhattan had been the film released in 2001 than the complexion that Hollywood Ending has certainly pales in comparison.

Allen plays Val Waxman, an aging two-time Oscar winning director, relegated to shooting commercials due to his rampant hypochondria and insistence on project control. When his ex-wife (Tea Leoni) convinces a room full of studio bigwigs led by current fiancee, Hal (Treat Williams) that Val is the right man for their latest $60-million production, it takes a little nudging by his agent, Al (Mark Rydell) to make him understand that this may be his last shot at a career rebirth. A salary of $500,000 and “1/10 of a point after quadruple break-even” gives Val the greenlight.

Pre-production goes rather smoothly despite the art director’s insistence of rebuilding entire sections of New York and Val’s choice for a foreign cinematographer (a volatile Asian whose previous work was with the Red Army) who requires an interpreter (Barney Cheng) on-set at all times. Things get dicey the night before shooting begins when Val suffers an attack of “psychosomatic blindness” and is forced to keep it a secret or face never working in this town again.

Woody has never been subtle when it comes to driving home points with pseudo-ironic metaphors that, excuse the pun, any blind person could spot even if they were deaf, dumb and mute. While the vision impaired subplot doesn’t show up until well into the first hour, Allen has used similar aspects of it in both Crimes & Misdemeanors (the rabbi going blind, hence losing his faith) and Deconstructing Harry (the literally out-of-focus actor played by Robin Williams.) Here, blindness becomes metaphorical for just about everything, from a director not having a clear “vision” of his project to how men could focus better in their marriage and personal relationships once they’ve already lost sight of them. And when all else fails, it can be used for slapstick, which here gets stale rather quickly.

Allen has habitually pointed the camera inward to take a look at his life and career. 1980’s Stardust Memories had Allen portraying a filmmaker receiving an honor for his past work only to believe that his past work in comedy was insignificant. (Many considered this a slap-in-the-face to his fans.) In 1996 with Deconstructing Harry, he took another harsh look at his life and the people he may have hurt along the road at the expense of the characters he had written. Hollywood Ending has elements of that such as when he wants to give the new film a real “Manhattan-like feeling with maybe a Cole Porter score” or when one character tells him that “one day you wake up and realize that laughs are not enough.” If he really wanted to be self-depreciating, he would have added a subplot about re-shooting the entire disastrous project as he did with 1987’s September.

Metaphorical and introspective observations aside, Hollywood Ending is a comedy first and foremost. It has all the makings of a classic screwball scenario set in the chew-and-spit world of Hollywood, but then again, so did Jade Scorpion. Woody Allen is the only one talking fast enough for the dialogue to be rapid-fire (mostly because he stutters and repeats things), but as always he’s brought aboard a great batch of supporting players who all offer top-of-the-line succor.

Tea Leoni has never felt so natural on screen before. She was fine as a comic foil in the brilliant Flirting with Disaster, but has alternated between flat and annoying in roles from The Family Man to Jurassic Park III. Here, her timing is just right and she even manages to pull off the unenviable task of making the audience believes that she truly harbors affection for the 66-year old writer/director. (For those keeping track, Woody’s love trysts with women 30-years his junior in film include Mariel Hemingway, Juliette Lewis, Mira Sorvino, Julia Roberts, Elisabeth Shue, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron.) Add Tiffani Thiessen (as an actress trying to seduce the director) and Debra Messing to that list as Val’s bubble-headed actress girlfriend, who disappears for the entire middle section of the film to attend a weight-loss spa, which Leoni’s character wisely observes, “I forgot that you even existed.”

Other performances are dead-on as well, particularly Treat Williams who gets a couple of the film’s best lines and the most priceless reaction shot. Mark Rydell is very funny as the loyal agent and deserved more screen time while the same can also be said for George Hamilton, whose role is so diminished that its hard to pick up what his actual job title is. The real find of the film though is Barney Cheng, as the college-student translator without a working knowledge of film recruited to help Blind Val around the set and to report his thoughts on the dailies. His deadpan delivery and facial expressions are an absolute highlight.

Hollywood Ending is certainly a fuller movie than Jade Scorpion, although a good 15-20 minute chop (of some of the blind gags) could have benefitted the film greatly. Nearly every joke in Scorpion fell flatter than an arsenic pancake in a nursing home and I’m happy to report that for every weak punchline there’s a strong one here, including a few classic Allen-isms. But by the time a third-act revelation, way out of Agatha Christie left field, about the cause of Allen’s blindness is thrust upon us, the film truly loses its way and hardly recovers from it. This film may have its titular Hollywood Ending, but Allen needs to open his eyes and concentrate once again on what made his films great in the first place. As someone perceives about Allen’s Val, “you had all the symptoms, but not the disease.”

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originally posted: 05/10/02 13:39:01
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User Comments

8/15/06 Anastasia Beaverhausen If they had just edited out about fifteen or twenty minutes... 4 stars
5/31/05 John Aster Habig I'd give it a better rating but i can't remember the ending i saw it about a year ago 4 stars
7/22/03 Monster W. Kung One of Allen's worst movies ever. 2 stars
6/18/03 Andrew Callaway Not Woody Allen's best... but very good. Woody has made better pictures. 4 stars
5/19/03 George Jung Gets better after every viewing. Amazing film. 5 stars
3/27/03 Jack Sommersby The creative well really ran dry this time around. Pathetic and boring. 1 stars
10/25/02 Sal Bitsvonka Entertainingly pleasant and surprisingly funny at times, though indeed, too tame 4 stars
6/28/02 Natalie Stonecipher Woody makes good comeback after mediocrity of CURSE OF JADE SCORPION. 4 stars
5/25/02 Film Guy Hollywood is ending if they keep leting Woody Allen make movies 2 stars
5/11/02 Kyle So THAT'S why Woody doesn't make many movies anymore... 2 stars
5/11/02 Mister Char I enjoyed it, good jokes, great ending (making fun of the french!!!) 4 stars
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  03-May-2002 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Woody Allen

Written by
  Woody Allen

  Woody Allen
  Téa Leoni
  Debra Messing
  Treat Williams
  Erica Leerhsen
  George Hamilton

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