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Woody Fades Out 

Hollywood Ending (PG-13)
DreamWorks

The same weekend that Woody Allen's newest film, Hollywood Ending, hit screens across America, cable television offered a Woody retrospective that included a long profile of the writer/actor/ director as well as a look at some of his best films. I had the misfortune of watching his most elegant film, Manhattan, and one of his most thoughtful, Hannah and Her Sisters, before seeing Hollywood Ending, graphically illustrating how blas and unremarkable Allen's films have been of late.

In Hollywood Ending, Allen returns to straight gag comedy but clings to the autobiographical device of making a disgruntled, burned-out film director the main character. Val Waxman (Allen) is a guy with two Oscars whose reputation has reduced him to directing television commercials. He needs a hit or his career is doomed. Enter his former wife Ellie (Ta Leoni), now a producer with Galaxy Pictures, and a script for a film set in New York that's right up Val's alley, The City That Never Sleeps. Ellie convinces studio head Hal (Treat Williams), also her fianc, to give Val a shot at directing the film.

On the first day of filming, Val is struck with hypochondriacal blindness, setting production into a tailspin. For a while, he keeps his blindness a secret, but eventually Ellie discovers what's going on and conspires to help Val finish the film. Naturally, it turns out to be a critical and popular disaster, but the Hollywood ending promised in the title comes when The City That Never Sleeps is declared a masterpiece in the French press. Val's career is not over after all, and I'll let you guess who gets the girl -- the neurotic director or the imperious studio head.

Hollywood Ending is not a complete flop. It has some funny moments and some classic lines. "I'd kill for the job," says Val to his agent when he's offered The City That Never Sleeps, "but the people I want to kill are the people who are making this film."

Allen skewers Hollywood and the profit-driven system with mixed success. The symbol, the idea of a blind film director, packs a wallop, but the actual enactment of one works with minimal success. Most of the cast is adequate but no one is memorable in the thin roles developed here. Allen's famous mockery of his own image saturates the film, but we know him so well by now that we're no longer interested in his quirks.

Still, every now and then he hits on a real zinger. When he asks Ellie what happened, why their marriage broke up, she says the relationship went sour, they never talked any more. Val throws up his hands and demands: "What do you mean? Where do marriages go? After a while they just lay there." Anyone who has ever divorced or fallen out of love will appreciate the melancholy truth of that one.

Is Hollywood Ending Allen's swan song? Surely not. But if there's one coming, let's hope for some new material. This stuff, after all these years, just lays there.

--Kathryn Eastburn

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