BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (director/writer: Woody Allen; screenwriter: Douglas McGrath; cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: John Cusack (David Shayne), Jack Warden (Julian Marx), Chazz Palminteri (Cheech), Joe Viterelli (Nick Valenti), Jennifer Tilly (Olive Neal), Dianne Wiest (Helen Sinclair), Mary-Louise Parker (Ellen), Rob Reiner (Sheldon Flender), Harvey Fierstein (Sid Loomis), Jim Broadbent (Warner Purcell), Tracey Ullman (Eden Brent), Annie Joe Edwards (Venus); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Greenhut; Miramax; 1994)
“An amusing and clever parody of the hypocrisies of the Broadway theater.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An amusing and clever parody of the hypocrisies of the Broadway theater and the way commerce and art intertwine. It’s set during the Roaring Twenties of Prohibition, when gangsters and artists rubbed elbows at the same speakeasies. It’s energetically directed and written by Woody Allen (“Husbands and Wives”/”Manhattan Murder Mystery”), and co-written by Douglas McGrath.
David Shayne (John Cusack) is a nice-guy struggling idealistic playwright (Woody’s alter-ego), coming to NYC from Pittsburgh with his girlfriend Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker) to be the next Maxwell Anderson. In David’s struggling artist circle gathering at a Village cafe, failed playwright Sheldon Flender (Rob Reiner) proudly exclaims that his work is “written specifically to go unproduced.” Unable to get backers for his third show, God of our Fathers, and refusing to let anyone else but himself direct it after the other two shows were botched when out of his hands, David’s producer Julian Marx (Jack Warden) runs into ruthless mob boss Nick Valenti (Joe Viterelli) at the Cotton Club and he agrees to back the Broadway show providing his bimbo flapper girl mistress, Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), gets a starring part. Also, Olive’s to be watched at all times by gruff mob bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), which means he’ll always be at rehearsals.
At first, kvetching about compromising his principles in starring someone to play the role of the wise psychiatrist who can’t act, is coarse, has a high-pitched squeaky voice, and, to boot, is an ignoramus, David soon relents when he realizes he can get his play on Broadway. Julian, at David’s insistence, brings in the magnificently egotistical fading veteran star Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest) for the lead actress, who has her own ideas about her part, and dieting pompous Brit actor Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent), who has an eating disorder problem brought on by nerves, for the male lead. For a supporting role, David hires the corny humored neurotic Eden Brent (Tracey Ullman), whose annoying lap dog follows her everywhere. Besides having to contend with the spoiled actors, David must contend with Cheech. His strong presence is felt at the rehearsals, as he begins to rewrite the play and his lines prove better than the author’s. Soon it becomes apparent he has artistic ability and David doesn’t.
There are many funny moments as the actors’ indulgences, preposterous actions, and infidelities are revealed, and though it covers familiar territory–it covers it well, adding a few surprising Woody quirks to the farce to liven things up. It never reaches great heights and seems a bit contrived, but Tilley, Wiest, and Palminteri give sparkling performances.
REVIEWED ON 3/25/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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