Hollywood Ending

"I'd kill for this job, but the people I want to kill are the ones offering me the job."

I always look forward to watching the latest Woody Allen movie, and I dread reviewing it. I risk not only repeating myself, but contradicting myself, as well. Of his last effort, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, I wrote: “Allen’s plots are so slight that his films play like comic book issues, with the same irrepressible character being placed in different situations. I think he needs a new angle; Jade Scorpion is always tolerable, and sometimes even more than that, but the formula won’t be able to withstand a new installment.” Now, with Hollywood Ending, I am forced to either eat those words, or repeat them: you can sense that his schtick is on the verge of becoming intolerably tiresome, but it never quite gets there. His films remain entertainment akin to watching a stand-up act: disposable stories, great sense of humor, one-liners that I quote incessantly for months.

This one is actually a bit of an improvement over the last: as a “satire,” to the extent that Allen is capable of actual satire, its humor is more pointed, its zingers sharper, his story less meandering. Shame that the entire movie is essentially a gimmick, but as gimmick movies go, this one is damn near incredible.

Allen again casts himself as a neurotic geezer surrounded by younger women who want him. This is fine with us, because we’re used to it, having knowledge of both his films and his personal life. He plays Val Waxman, a washed-up director who won an Oscar way back when, but has since lost “it” and is now looking for a comeback project to help him escape doing deodorant commercials in Alaska. His ex-wife (Tea Leoni) feels sorry for him and pushes to have him direct her new producer hubby’s latest project.

Waxman reluctantly accepts the proposal from the two peopple he hates most. Things finally begin looking up: if he can just navigate his way through this project, perhaps he can revive his career and stop having to sell out. Alas, he becomes so nervous that he goes psychosomatically blind, which leads to a great exchange between Waxman and his eye doctor (Doctor: “I can’t see anything.” Waxman: “I can’t see anything either!”). His agent (Mark Rydell) helpfully suggests that the only way to save face is to just fumble his way through the project and not tell anyone, promising that he will always be by his side to guide him. Then he gets banned from the set.

Before passing judgement on the movie, it’s important to ask why you went to see it in the first place. Considering Allen’s last couple outings, I doubt anyone is expecting another Annie Hall. But if you still went after watching Small Time Crooks and Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending shouldn’t have disappointed. It’s more of the same, yes, but there’s a difference between more of the same Woody Allen and more of the same, say Adam Sandler. I will no longer be so na”ve as to complain about the man repeating himself.

And there are some flashes of brilliance here, with Allen delivering what may be some of his best lines. I won’t be giving them away. What an incredible concept: here’s a guy with one joke and no acting range who never gets old — both figuratively and literally, I think — because of his uncanny ability to come up with new ways to exploit that joke. Perhaps his work is a bore to someone who does not enjoy a good one-liner. Myself, I say give me more.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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