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'Hollywood Ending'

'Hollywood Ending' is all wrong, but still entertaining

Friday, May 03, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Don't mock the afflicted," my mother used to say, but Woody Allen's mother must have said something different. "Hollywood Ending" is his most socially incorrect movie to date. The subject and object of its shameful humor is blindness.

'Hollywood Ending'

RATING: PG-13 for some drug references and mild sexual material

STARRING: Woody Allen, Tea Leoni, Treat Williams, Mark Rydell, Debra Messing

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

WEB SITE: www.dreamworks.com/



Even more shameful, it's truly funny.

Woody plays Val Waxman, erstwhile darling of a director, now washed-up and in dire need of a comeback. The only way he'll get it is by swallowing what's left of his pride and accepting an offer from his ex-wife (producer Tea Leoni) to make a picture under the Galaxy Studio boss (Treat Williams) she dumped him for.

"This guy stole my wife!" Val fumes.

"He doesn't hold that against you," says his smarmy agent (Mark Rydell).

What price comeback? That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to starve is out of the question, in the view of his current ditsy girlfriend (Debra Messing), who is gunning for a role in the film herself. He reminds her that she's never had an acting class in her life.

"I'm a natural," she replies. "Classes would ruin me."

It's either this film or geriatric diaper commercials for Val. So when they make him an offer he can't refuse (a tenth of a point, after quadruple break-even), he takes it on -- against his better neurotic, hypochondriacal judgment.

Val still hasn't recovered from the time his son Tony (now "Scumbag X," a drummer who eats live rats on stage) pushed him down a flight of stairs. He recently believed he had bubonic plague. He's now convinced of a brain tumor. Every neurosis he ever had returns during the shooting of his new film -- most notably an anxiety attack that leaves him suddenly, psychosomatically blind.

The studio must never know!

In cool, graceful Tea Leoni, one sees the character ghosts of Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow -- all Woody's amours-turned-screen-partners (minus Soon-Yi, so far) -- of whom Leoni is the equal in sincere commitment to romantic straight-woman role. Williams is quintessential West Coast studio chief Hal ("Gotta run, I'm having another skin cancer removed"), and Rydell quite perfect as toothy, unctuous agent Al Hack.

In case you failed to notice, they're Val, Hal and Al.

Rydell, who is primarily a director ("On Golden Pond," "The Reivers"), has an insight about Allen: "He always says he's not a great director, but a great caster." Suave old George Hamilton as a Galaxy studio exec here is a fine example. But the best example by far is hilarious Barney Cheng as a grad-student translator for the temperamental Chinese photographer. Cheng is the only one in on Val's secret blindness, and it falls to him -- his inscrutable face and fabulously stilted delivery -- to keep up the ruse.

"Hollywood Ending" is Allen's 44th film, 35 of which he directed and/or wrote, garnering 13 best screenplay and six best director Academy Award nominations. He's a prolific survivor, a kind of male Mae West in the conceit of his irresistibility to the opposite sex. Woody may age (and he wasn't so hunky to begin with), but his presumably inherent sex appeal never does. Of course, it's his mind, not his body, that makes him such a babe magnet. How could any woman resist the former or crave the latter?

His latest entry is rather long between laughs during its second half, but as always the one-liners -- when they hit the mark -- are worth waiting for:

"For me, the nicest thing about masturbation is afterward -- the cuddling time," he muses.

"Our marriage wasn't going anywhere," says Leoni of their past relationship. "We never talked."

"But we had great sex!" he rejoins. "Sex is better than talk. Talk is what you suffer through to get to sex."

A quick, absurdly happy "Hollywood Ending" -- with a touch of France -- is no more or less than we need as a payoff for sitting through this nice bit of froth.

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