The impossible has happened. I never thought it within the realm of believability, but after a decade of steady decline (with a few sparse hits such as "Everyone Says I Love You" and "The Curse Of the Jade Scorpion"), Woody Allen has finally done what he has never managed to do before: create a stupid movie. "Hollywood Ending", like many of Allen's films, has a great promise, but unfortunately, more keeping in tune with some of his more recent fare, the end result falls flat.
Val Waxman (the Woodman himself) is a washed-up, neurotic (what else?) film director currently hanging on to any job he can, directing things like deodorant commercials to pay the girls. He lives with his somewhat light-headed girlfriend Lori (Debra Messing), although his heart truly belongs to his divorcee, Ellie Waxman (Tea Leoni). Behind the scenes, Ellie is pushing her husband and studio executive Hal (Treat Williams) to let Val make his big comeback with a film called "The City That Never Sleeps". Hal gives in, and Val immediately jumps on the offer, and things go smoothly until two days before the start of shooting. Then, due to stress and several pressing issues (mainly concerning his relationships), Val develops psychosomatic blindness. Aided by his agent Al (Mark Rydell) and the Chinese cinematographer's translator (Barney Cheng), Val attempts to direct the film blind.
Interesting, no? No, not at all. To tell the truth, "Hollywood Ending" is one of the more tiresome "comedies" to hit the screen in quite some time. In the beginning (before the blindness hits), there are some hints at that old Woody wit, but the one-liners in "Hollywood Ending" only manage to evoke sparse, halfhearted grins. By the time the blindness hits, the humor is over.
Sad to say, once the situation actually develops, the film comes to a screeching halt. After the plot really gets going, there is not a shred of originality or sharp humor to be found anywhere. At that point, "Hollywood Ending" dissolves into a half-assed montage of poorly performed physical comedy. It no longer even attempts to create humorous situations or punchy jokes. Rather, it becomes Woody bumping into things. See, he's blind, so he can't see the flower pot, or the table, or the glass, or that he's about to fall off of a tall platform; isn't that supposed to be funny? I am not amused. This is not the kind of comedy that Allen is good at, and to see it over and over again in one film is monotonous and unnecessary. Couldn't someone with Allen's intelligence think of some way to advance such a creative set-up into even more inventive hilarity?
Then he gets into dramatics. When did this side of Allen appear so suddenly? Unlike his breezier, punchier films in the past, the plot of "Hollywood Ending" is treacherous and boring to sit through; too many scenes sacrifice laughter for what the film seems to think to be serious insights into a stoic plot. For example, in moments such as when Tea Leoni begins a speech about how she really never stopped loving Val, I realized that (for this film at least) Allen has succumbed to the mainstream Hollywood storytelling machine that he loathes so much.
Has Woody Allen lost his edge? This critic won't say anything conclusive, for he still has the ability to surprise us with some wonderful gems. However, "Hollywood Ending" is a dry, unfunny film that feels longer than it is and fails mostly from an inability to turn an interesting situation into something more. There are a few smiles to be had, and I will leave you with one of them:
Val: "I can't direct the picture blind!"
Al: "Have you seen half of the pictures out there?"
If the Woodman can't do it, who can?