I, Bug

On Spider-Man and Woody Allen

Speaking of creatures . . . So, this short, skinny guy with a face like a crumpled gym sock walks into a movie and asks, "Why did the old frog kiss the beautiful princess?" After a beat, the short, skinny guy wrings his hands, licks his lips and answers, "Because the beautiful princess was a dumb fuck." That isn't remotely funny, but neither is Hollywood Ending, the new Woody Allen movie in which the frog prince of New York comedy again wallows in the middle of the frame as various familiar faces, namely various princes and princesses from television, dart about him like so many flies with a death wish. This time, Allen plays Val Waxman, a once-famous filmmaker whose former wife Ellie (TeŠ Leoni), now ensconced in Los Angeles at a topflight studio with a power boyfriend (Treat Williams), secures him a career-reviving directing gig. Val suffers from many of the Woodster's frequent complaints—a beautiful ex, an estranged son, fawning friends and an equally sycophantic nitwit girlfriend (Debra Messing)—although, as usual, everything seems to be going his way (including the movie itself, a costly period piece that, inexplicably, he's being allowed to shoot in New York rather than on an LA back lot). In any event, just before production begins, Val succumbs to hysterical blindness, which leaves him to bluff his way through production without benefit of sight.

For those who have been watching most of Allen's films since he canned his longtime director of photography Carlo Di Palma, this may not sound all that far-fetched. Still, while the writer/director's films have been nothing much to look at in the past couple of years, it wasn't as if his last cinematographer, Zhao Fei, was bereft of talent, as seems to be the case with his latest, Wedigo von Schultzendorff. Not that Allen would notice. As his films look progressively worse and ring increasingly hollow, it has become clear that the guy not only has no interest in making movies that are beautiful, engaging, meaningful or especially funny; but he also has no interest in making movies for audiences—period. It isn't only that there is a dearth of ideas in Hollywood Ending—however hateful, Deconstructing Harry was at least about something—but it's also that the whole thing is almost entirely devoid of pleasure. This new feature—with most of its gibes aimed at California, Canada and, pointedly, Chinese cinematographers—may be marginally more lively than the one before, but that's only because this one runs longer and features George Hamilton, who classes up his every scene. Allen no longer seems capable of suckering high-end talent such as Julia Roberts and Sean Penn into playing his onscreen patsies, but a suavey like Hamilton is too professional to let someone else's career slump get in his way.

Spider-Man was directed by Sam Raimi; written by David Koepp, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; produced by Laura Ziskin and Ian Bryce; and stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and Willem Dafoe; Now playing countywide;Hollywood Ending was written and directed by Woody Allen; produced by Letty Aronson; and stars Allen, TeŠ Leoni, Treat Williams and Debra Messing. Now playing countywide.

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