Hollywood Ending

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Woody Allen continues his descent into comedic toothlessness with “Hollywood Ending,” a weak-willed but likable film that should have been brilliant.

It is a parody of movie-making, and Woody Allen is capable of writing and directing a magnificent one. Judged on its own merits, “Hollywood Ending” is good enough, but you can’t help feeling disappointed, knowing what might have been (and especially having seen Allen’s last few films, all as impotent as this one).

Allen plays himself, really: a neurotic, Oscar-winning filmmaker whom no one takes seriously anymore. His name is Val Waxman, and having fallen on hard times, he is reduced to pursuing TV movies like “the interracial abortion gene-splicing thing.” His ex-wife, Ellie (Tea Leoni), now dating a studio head (Treat Williams), talks the studio into hiring Val to direct a new film — making his ex-wife’s boyfriend his boss. But oh well. Work is work.

This might be enough complication for one movie, but Allen takes it a step further: The night before shooting is to begin, Val comes down with a psychosomatic case of blindness. His agent (Mark Rydell) convinces him to direct the film anyway, using his cinematographer’s Chinese translator (Barney Cheng) as a guide to prevent people from knowing he can’t see. If someone comes up to Val and says, “Should we use this one or the bigger one?,” the guide can casually say, “Oh, what nice pocketwatches,” cuing Val on what’s being held up in front of him so he can offer an opinion.

It’s a stretch, but credit Allen for knowing how to direct a movie in a way that is believable, avoiding most of the traps that would have turned this into a farce. (One quibble: Val apparently can’t even tell which direction people’s voices are coming from, which doesn’t make sense at all.)

There are many Hollywood-insider gags — like an art director who feels the real Times Square isn’t good enough and wants to build a set instead — and there are plenty of jokes at the expense of agents. Some hit, some miss.

The reason for Val’s blindness is surprisingly lame and unnecessary, as is the romantic subplot. (Do you think Val and Ellie will rekindle their love? It is called “Hollywood Ending,” after all.)

But then there’s the charm. Allen shot the film as a series of scenes: No cutting away, no fancy editing, just a camera that follows the characters around the room. It’s a very non-movie-ish movie about making movies. Pretty sly, Mr. Allen.

And there are some deep, wonderful laughs. Not enough to make this a great comedy, but enough to make it a pleasant one. Allen can do better, and has done better, but perhaps this is as good as he does anymore.

B- (; PG-13, some mild profanity and some mild.)

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