Bullets Over Broadway (1994) Woody Allen

Production Budget: $20 million

US Gross: $13 million

This is a tentative placement due to the fact I can only find US numbers.  But that being said, it has been listed as a box office disappointment and if I can find anything to refute its bombing I will certainly update the review.

Bullets Over Broadway is set in 1928 and follows David Shayne (John Cusack).  Shayne is a struggling playwright and can only get his new production on Broadway through financing by a Chicago mobster.  The condition of getting that money is Shayne has to hire the mob boss‘ girlfriend Olive (Jennifer Tilly) as one of the leads.  Olive turns out to be an incredibly horrible actress.  Olive’s bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) who has to sit in on the rehearsals, eventually gets fed up with the play and offers his thoughts on how to fix the material.  His suggestions are genius and Shayne and Cheech soon team up to finish the play.

I haven’t reviewed a Woody Allen movie in about three months mainly because Netflix was backed up and couldn’t get Bullets till now.  So I’ve pretty much had a vacation from my 40 film marathon.  So I should be re-energized and ready to go back to some classic Woody Allen.  There are times when it stinks having to write thoughtful movie reviews.  Bullets Over Broadway is one of Allen’s most highly regarded comedies in the second half of his career.  Critics praise it for being very smart and it even got nominated for more Oscars than Annie Hall.  Yet despite all the praise and my being “re-energized“ after about 15 minutes of watching Bullets I let out a weary sigh.  The part that sucks is I now have to explain why I didn’t care for this movie when even I can’t rightly justify it.  There are just some movies people love or are considered classics that when you watch them the only thing you can say as to why you don’t like it is something to the effect of “I just wasn’t into it“.  Sadly that doesn’t fit for a review like this so I have to try to find something more concrete.

The one thing I read from reviews is how intelligent and smart this movie is when I find it to be the opposite.  When I think of intelligent Allen I think Annie Hall or Manhattan where the relationships are more realistic and complicated and the dialog is witty.  In Bullets everyone is playing a broad character and the jokes are predictable and telegraphed.  I’m not saying broad characters are necessarily bad but I don’t see what people are saying when they claim its intelligent. To me this feels like Allen wrote another short film for New York Stories but inflated it to feature length.

The film really felt lazy to me as all the jokes are simple and telegraphed.  A perfect example is when Shayne hires Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent) with the warning he is thin now, but as stress hits him he tends to nervously eat.  Sure enough in every scene he is in he has a turkey leg in his hand or is stuffing pastries down his throat.  I frankly don’t know how it passes as a joke or how this passes as smart Woody but then I’m not a comedy writer.  Of course Shayne gets funded by mobsters and of course they are stereotypical leg breaking mobsters and of course Big V’s girlfriend Olive is a terrible actress and…*sigh*.

I mean, am I being unfair here?  I know not everything Allen does has to be super smart and I love other movies where he gets silly.  But even in those films he is able to take an easy set up and still twist things in a new direction.  That is what I am wanting here.  I don’t need smart, but I need something fresh.

I guess you get that with Cheech becoming interested in screenwriting.  However, as I mentioned before, that feels like a premise for a short film which was inflated to feature length.  Admittedly those scenes are the funniest of the movie.  I enjoyed the idea Cheech viewed art the same way as the mob and used the same tactics to complete the show.  This sub plot saved it from being a bad film for me, but didn’t make it a good film.

The acting is hit or miss.  Among the hits are Palminteri, Romb Reiner, Jennifer Tilly, and Dianne Wiest, who won a Supporting Oscar for her role as aging diva actress Helen Sinclair.  Wiest does break out of her role, which no longer becomes a simple parody of Norma Desmond, and becomes a funnier role with her take on the funny “don’t speak“ scenes.  The big miss for me has to be John Cusack in the Woody Allen role.  I know, this places me in the minority yet again as everyone else praises his performance.  Even with Cusack allegedly toning down his performance, I still see him as trying way too hard.  Seeing Cusack go from forced stutters and slumping down to look smaller to gesticulating wildly and yelling in a high pitched voice made me feel sorry for him.

Yes I’m a grinch who hates everything including the genius Bullets Over Broadway.  I also realize I may be spoiled at this point since I’m nowhere near the bottom of Allen’s worst comedies.  Keep in mind I in no way think this is a bad film.  I just didn’t personally find it funny.  I was severely underwhelmed given the massive amounts of hype which was piled onto it.  To me it is an amusing film which is elevated in some peoples eyes due to how far Allen has fallen since.  This is one of the few times my opinion has differed from the majority of Woody fans, but for me it is a big ‘MEH‘.


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