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[whitespace] Woody Allen and Tea Leoni in 'Hollywood Ending'
No Longer Cursed: Woody Allen undoes the damage caused by 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion' by eliciting a fine comic turn from Téa Leoni in 'Hollywood Ending.'

Geezer Pleaser

The advantages of not changing your act: Woody Allen's 'Hollywood Ending'

By Richard von Busack

IN WOODY ALLEN'S first shot in Hollywood Ending, he's introduced in full parka, muffler and snow goggles; he's only recognizable by the familiar wheedling voice, pleading for rescue. Director Val Waxman's (Allen) career is in the tank; worse, he's not getting over his furious resentment at his ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni, never better), a development-girl who left him to marry a Hollywood player (Treat Williams).

Out of pity, Ellie finagles Val a job shooting a bad gangster melodrama titled The City That Never Sleeps. Choking down his bile-"I would kill for this job, but the problem is that the people offering the job are the ones I want to kill"-Val begins work on the film that will save or destroy his career. Suddenly, he's struck with hysterical blindness, which he and Ellie try to conceal as the filmmaking continues-implausible, perhaps, but supposedly Hitchcock never looked into the viewfinder.

When Allen turned up on the Oscars ceremony in March to do some standup, it was by far the night's most encouraging tribute to New York post-Sept. 11. Seeing him was more of a relief than seeing Nora Ephron's badly edited tribute reel, which used some of Allen's films as its source. Hollywood Ending spins an entire movie off of one old Allen joke: the hysterical nausea in Annie Hall that prevented him from attending an awards ceremony ("All they do in California is give awards to each other!").

Hollywood Ending hints at the problems of financing a Woody Allen comedy in today's film industry-he'd be called irrelevant if it weren't for the fact that every other date movie tries to be a Woody Allen movie. After seeing Allen at the bottom of his form in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, it's a relief to see him up to his old standards. One of the best aspects of Allen's Small Time Crooks and Sweet and Lowdown was Zhao Fei's photography, so I'd wonder about the borderline-racist jokes about a Mandarin-speaking cinematographer complicating the problem of a blind man's attempts to make a movie. Hollywood Ending's photographer is Wedigo von Schultzendorff, which sounds like an outrageous pseudonym, but von Schultzendorff was the photographer for The Thirteenth Floor. To put it mildly, the photography here is better than Schultzendorff's work on that dim and forgotten CGI-laden trifle. There's one stunning shot in Central Park in which the skyscrapers look as if they were plated in gold. I realize Allen's New York isn't the real one-who's ever seen the real San Francisco in a movie, for that matter? These big cities are full of tribes that deny each other's existence. Still, in a world that has reputedly changed so much, it's comforting to see those towers are still there and to see that Allen is still there to appreciate it all, or as much as a neurotic can appreciate anything.

Hollywood Ending (PG-13; 114 min.), directed and written by Woody Allen, photographed by Wedigo von Schultzendorff and starring Allen, Téa Leoni and Treat Williams, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema and selected theaters.

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Web extra to the May 2-8, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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