Hollywood Ending

May 8, 2002 at 12:00 am

It’s hard to imagine a more depressing waste of celluloid than Hollywood Ending. After a long career making some of the funniest, smartest movies in American history, Woody Allen finally seems to have hit the wall. Is this a temporary boo-boo that can be fixed, like loose dentures — or something more permanent, like senility?

When two hours of screen time feel like five, when a theater full of Woody fans sink deeper into silence as they sink lower in their chairs, then you’ve got to wonder. How the director of such recent delights as Small Time Crooks (2000), Sweet and Lowdown (1999) and Deconstructing Harry (1997) — each one an inventive extension of his oeuvre — could let this dreck make it to the screen is hard to fathom.

And if starring in his own brainstorms is so important to Allen, then he’s in real trouble. Those classic schlub monologues of his depend on perfect timing, both in their delivery and in the way they’re cut. Hollywood Ending instead gives us Woody the Doddering Fool: twitching, fumbling, swallowing his punch lines, hardly funny, just annoying.

And then there’s Woody the Old Guy with a Fine Young Girlfriend: Like, it’s really time to put that shtick out to pasture. Seeing Allen, all balding and jowly, glom onto the attractive Téa Leoni is embarrassing and unbelievable — according to the script, he’s a whining, neurotic pain in the ass, so what’s her motivation? And why would his sexy live-in partner (Debra Messing, the only bright spot in this debacle) ever take up with this creep in the first place?

Among the other horrors here are: George Hamilton’s face (his suntan finally resembles a bowl of mocha pudding); Leoni’s wooden characterization and Mark Rydell’s cloying straight-man-nerisms (both being Allen’s responsibility as director). And the script is either one of the comedian’s worst mistakes — relying on a running gag that makes less sense as it goes on — or some kind of weird swan song.

Would an otherwise excellent filmmaker go to perverse lengths to call it quits, this mess being his actual Hollywood ending? Don’t bother to find out.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected].