With Hollywood Ending, Woody Allen has pulled off a neat trick. He has taken his many neuroses and quirks and turned them into something valuable: The ultimate cure for insomnia.
In short: This film is so bad it’s painful. It amounts to a 112 minute butt-breaker.
PG-13 for some drug references and sexual material
Woody Allen (Manhattan) plays Val Waxman, a movie director who was big 10 years ago, but is now directing deodorant commercials in Canada. His career in Hollywood hit the skids after he gained a reputation for being difficult to work with; having his wife run off with a Hollywood mogul certainly didn’t help his cause.
Bafflingly, his ex, Ellie (Tea Leoni, Jurassic Park III), still has a soft spot for the frail little bundle of nerves and talks her new husband, Hal (Treat Williams, The Devil’s Own), into letting Val direct what will hopefully be his comeback picture, The City that Never Sleeps.
This movie within the movie is a period piece. Set in the 1940s, it involves the sordid tale of a boy who becomes a gangster and is then hired to murder his own father. It’s almost like life imitating art; Val has a son that creeps him out with his orange hair and multiple body piercings.
Ah. The material of dead philosophers and Woody Allen alike. Faster than you can say “bananas,” whiny little Val picks up a new psychosomatic disorder: He goes blind.
Since he’s not one to squander a golden opportunity, Val still directs the movie while trying to keep his blindness a secret. Basically, it’s Woody Allen doing high concept comedy. And it’s not funny.
Love is Blind
One of the many perplexing and thoroughly unfunny things about this movie is that Val is so attractive to the ladies. His live-in girlfriend, Lori (Debra Messing, Will and Grace), is a ditz half his age and his ex-wife never really stopped loving him.
Plus, the bodacious Tiffani Thiessen (Saved by the Bell) plays a starlet, Sharon, who is sexually attracted to the neurotic lightweight. OK. Maybe it’s a joke about how Hollywood’s aging leading actors are seen cavorting with ladies half their age, with fewer and fewer roles available to the matriarchs of cinema. But it’s not funny.
In fact, the whole movie is not funny.
The only time it almost lifts off the ground is when a very restrained Isaac Mizrahi makes a brief appearance as a production designer who wants to rebuild the Empire State Building and Central Park instead of simply shooting on location.
Most of the film is an embarrassment. In one particularly bad scene, Val, while trying to cover up his blindness, meets with Hal. Val looks across the sofa to where he thinks Hal is sitting, but in reality he is not. The problem, apparently, is Val is too much of an idiot to listen and detect from where Hal’s voice is coming. It is not a funny scene; it is as ugly as it gets for a once-revered director.
This is the kind of material only Woody Allen himself, and maybe a couple other Hollywood insiders, will find enjoyable. Movies about movies need to be careful because they tend to be self-absorbed, narcissistic endeavors that try to make the film-going public envious.
The ones that succeed are a rarity. Woody Allen’s own Purple Rose of Cairo would fall into that category. It romanticized the cinema in a very sweet way. Also, the obscure and little seen Entropy, a quasi-autobiographical film directed by Phil Joanou, mixed the business, the art, and the personal life behind the scenes into a fantastic piece of entertainment.
Hollywood Babble On
There’s something even more disturbing about Hollywood Ending than its lack of humor. It is so thoroughly ill conceived it is truly astonishing.
For instance, Val hires a Chinese cinematographer who doesn’t speak a word of English. Why? Perhaps it’s a joke about the difficulties of a director (seeing or blind) trying to communicate his “vision” to others. But it’s not funny. It’s annoying along with Allen’s trademark stammering and yammering and psycho-philosophical banter.
And regarding that banter, it lacks wit.
As for what could be considered the film’s punch line, it’s basically a stale joke about French culture. As it turns out, Val’s new film is a reviled failure in the States, but in France, it’s received as pure genius. It’s the same old joke often made about Jerry Lewis. Build a bridge, Woody. Get over all that worries you, ails you, scares you, and makes you lose your appetite. After watching the final cut of The City that Never Sleeps, Val yammers, “Call Dr. Kevorkian!” Audiences are going to “storm the projection booth and throw the film into the sea.”
Surely Allen didn’t anticipate that statement would wind up being art imitating life.
A dozen monkeys locked in a room for a million years would have a Dickens of a time coming up with a screenplay for a comedy that is this consistently unfunny.
Come on, gang. Hollywood Ending is so bad, we need to grab our torches and storm the projection booth!