Woody Allen, unquestionably one of the greatest American filmmakers, has done the impossible. He has made a comedy that takes a satirical jab at the Hollywood industry when, in fact, it is a dead-on example of the type of dumb filmmaking he is making fun of. "Hollywood Ending" is strictly a one-joke movie scarcely populated with any of the edgy and funny dialogue Allen is known for. To make matters worse, this is the first time when Allen's fidgety persona has been grating, likely due to a lack of good material rather than a criticism of his performance.
Val Waxman (Woody Allen) is a down-on-his-luck, New York-based film director, once at the top of his game (he has even won two Oscars), and now forced to shoot deodorant commercials just to make ends meet. When one of the top Hollywood movie studios, Galaxie Pictures, decides to make a picture about Manhattan called "The City That Never Sleeps," producer Ellie (Tea Leoni) convinces her executive boyfriend, Hal (Treat Williams), that Val would be perfect for the job. Val excitedly accepts, despite his raging jealousy over ex-wife Ellie's new lover. What he doesn't anticipate is that he acquires a case of psychosomatic blindness only days before shooting starts. Naturally he doesn't want to be fired, so his agent (Mark Rydell) convinces him to keep his blindness a secret and carry on with filming, anyway.
While the silly premise of "Hollywood Ending" has an admitted amount of potential for comic hilarity, none of it turns up in the finished product. For possibly the first time in Allen's comedic forays, the film simply isn't funny. Aside from a few mildly inspired, if forgettable, bits, the humor relies too much on clumsy physical comedy and dialogue exchanges so predictable they cease to be amusing. The entire project seems to be three paces "off-center," and a testament that even brilliant directors can sometimes step dreadfully wrong.
If there is one thing Woody Allen can do, it is write standout characters and get ideal performances out of his wide range of actors. Not this time. Each and every thespian, even leads Woody Allen (2000's "Small Time Crooks
") and Tea Leoni (2001's "Jurassic Park III
"), are handed slim, throwaway roles vacant of passion or vitality.
Debra Messing (2002's "The Mothman Prophecies
" and TV's "Will and Grace"), as Val's air-headed girlfriend, Lori, is a spectacular comedienne who has energy to spare, but is wasted in a role, I suppose, meant to be reminiscent of Mira Sorvino's Oscar-winning work in 1995's "Mighty Aphrodite." Also showing up in effectual parts are film director Mark Rydell, as Val's agent; George Hamilton, as a Galaxie executive; Treat Williams (1999's "The Deep End of the Ocean
"), as Ellie's new boyfriend; and Tiffani Thiessen (2000's "The Ladies Man
"), as a bimbo actress looking to get into her director's pants.
Not only does the comedy in "Hollywood Ending" not work, but neither does the sterile romance between 66-year-old Allen and 34-year-old Leoni and unevenly slow pacing. On its own, "Hollywood Ending" is weak. Stood next to the rest of Allen's respectable oeuvre, it is a baffling misfire, and possibly the weakest movie he has made in the last twenty years. Like Allen last film, the mediocre "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
," it can only be hoped that this is a temporary slump he will soon rise out of.
©2002 by Dustin Putman