Woody Allen says he rescued the idea for Hollywood Ending after rediscovering it on a napkin he'd forgotten years ago. The finished product bears that out. The best thing about the movie is its premise: It's a good idea, taken from before Allen's recent losing streak, but it's stretched too thin for its own good. Like Small Time Crooks and Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending sustains a good nature from start to finish, but the air of comedic pleasantness only occasionally translates into actual comedy. In full bluster, Allen stars as a down-on-his-luck director reduced to helming deodorant commercials and trying to figure out how he's gone, in his words, "from the cutting edge to the buttering edge." But when a remake of a '40s New York crime melodrama lands in the hands of his producer ex-wife (Tea Leoni), his luck takes a turn for the better. Hired in spite of the reservations of Leoni's studio-head fiancé (Treat Williams), Allen seizes his chance at a comeback, only to find himself stricken with psychosomatic blindness. Undaunted, he decides to proceed with the shoot. Like his alter ego, Allen ought to be able to direct this sort of film blindfolded: It's filled with comic potential, a colorful milieu, and promising characters. But it takes quite a bit of digging to get to the laughs, and even with a well-chosen cast, few of the players rise above the level of caricature. Scenes that ought to build to comic crescendos instead take on a steady, annoying hum. By the time Allen bumbles through the umpteenth scene with characters who are unaware of his condition, the film threatens to become a farce of a farce. Even more puzzling is the way Allen neglects the best characters, like the ambitious production designer (Isaac Mizrahi) or an easily befuddled Chinese translator taken into Allen's confidence (promising newcomer Barney Cheng), so he can better concentrate on the unconvincing relationship between himself and Leoni. Though he thankfully steers clear of most clichés of Hollywood satires, shopworn Allenisms take their place, most involving the who's-on-first-familiar act of contrasting Los Angeles and New York. Another minor effort with none of the usual compensations of smallness—not least of all its punishing pace—Hollywood Ending feels like the kind of film a director makes simply because he's gotten in the habit of making films.
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