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HOLLYWOOD ENDING (director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Wedigo von Schultzendorff; editor: Alisa Lepselter; cast: Woody Allen (Val Waxman), Debra Messing (Lori), Tiffani Thiessen (Sharon Bates), Treat Williams (Hal), Tea Leoni (Ellie), Mark Rydell (Al), Mark Webber (Tony Waxman), Peter Gerety (Psychiatrist), Isaac Mizrahi (Elio), Barney Cheng (Translator), George Hamilton (Ed), Jodie Markell (Andrea Ford); Runtime: 114; DreamWorks Pictures; 2002)
“But even a blind man can see that this turgid comedy is mechanical and uninspired and even worse, it’s a sour grapes film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Hollywood Ending is Woody Allen’s 31st feature in 34 years, and signals for the 66-year-old director that he has run out of things to say and needs to either retire or take a vacation to recharge his brain cells. This one is just another Woody Allen plot deprived sitcom comedy that is so much like his other recent films that it is hard to distinguish one from the other–except this one might be his bitterest. It’s the same Woody alter ego performing as a neurotic, psychosomatic, klutzy, pill-popping womanizer, who is ridiculously cast in the leading role opposite beautiful women who might be half his age. The Woody formula has become tiresome and predictable, but like his other so-so efforts there are enough one-liners to keep it barely afloat. But even a blind man can see that this turgid comedy is mechanical and uninspired and even worse, it’s a sour grapes film. Woody expresses contempt for everyone but himself, as he insults film critics, the movie public, the French taste in cinema, the movie making process, the New Age Hollywood lifestyle and almost everything else he blindly grasps at suffers from his venom as he goes on one big rant throughout this one-note film.

Woody is a temperamental, has-been Oscar winning movie director who is reduced in these lean times to making TV commercials in the Canadian tundra, when he surprisingly finds that his ex-wife Tea Leoni has talked her studio boss head, the one she left him for and who is now her fianc√©, Treat Williams, into hiring him to direct his new $60 million dollar picture “The City that Never Sleeps.” It’s a New York-based film and offers a familiar subject to Woody, as Tea believes he was born to direct this film.

Still angry at her for leaving him for the shallow Treat, to live in his palatial Hollywood home, Woody becomes psychosomatic-ally blind just as the film begins shooting. His trusted agent, Mark Rydell, tells him to tell no one, because if Treat ever finds out he’ll never work in the industry again. The plan is at first for Rydall to be on the set with him all the time. When Rydall’s kicked off the set because the studio and the actors object, he gets the Chinese cinematographer (NYU business student Barney Cheng) to replace him as Woody’s eyes. The comedy never came through with this attempt at self-parody. The barbs had no sting and seemed cynical more than anything else.

Debra Messing plays Woody’s attractive bimbo roommate and sex toy, who is more interested in getting a part in the film than she is in him. Tiffani Thiessen plays the sexy film’s star in ‘the film within the film’, who we are supposed to believe craves to go to bed with him. George Hamilton is part of the production team that makes sure the film will not go over budget. Peter Gerety is the analyst who treats Woody’s neuroses, the condition we know only too well from his other films. Jodie Markell is a gossipy magazine journalist who is permitted on the set to write a piece about the making of the film. Mark Webber is Woody’s punk rock son from his first wife whom he hasn’t talked to for years. Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer, plays the art designer who is more difficult and fussy over the sets for the studio to deal with than even Woody is. None of these supporting characters had parts that were developed, as they seemed to be brought into the script to see if Woody can grab a laugh or two from some dialogue with them.

The story was inconsequential, and the ludicrous ending was as unbelievable as about everything else in the film was. The laughs were hard to come by, but Woody managed a few of his trademark cynical barbs and demeaning sexual jokes. His best laugh getter was in his comment about communication: “Sex is better than talking.” But aside from Woody’s one-liners, this film is forgettable.

REVIEWED ON 5/13/2002 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”