Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Video review: "Whatever Works"

Here's my take on "Whatever Works": Woody Allen got too old to play Woody Allen, so he hired Larry David to do it for him.

The 73-year-old auteur is getting a mite long in the tooth to do his neurotic New York misanthrope shtick, so other actors have had to take over. Larry David, co-creator of "Seinfeld" and star of his own show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," makes for a decent stand-in.

Actually, David is a double stand-in: Allen wrote the screenplay in the 1970s for the late, great Zero Mostel, who unfortunately left this mortal coil before the movie could be made.

David plays Boris Yellnikoff, a brilliant but unlikeable guy who gave up physics to teach chess to children. Boris is in perpetual holler mode, shouting at his students, people who annoy him -- which is just about everybody -- and at the world in general.

A 21-year-old Southern belle runaway (Evan Rachel Wood) shows up on his doorstep begging for food, and soon she's living with him, and eventually marries him. She's dumb as a doorstop, but her presence keeps Boris' jangled nerves relatively calm.

It's mostly rehashed Woody Allen jokes, occasionally funny and occasionally annoying.

Things really get screwy when first the girl's mother (Patricia Clarkson) and then her father (Ed Begley Jr.) come traipsing along in search of her. Both are Bible-thumping caricatures, and to these Southern ears, both their accents and portrayal are ludicrous, bordering on the offensive.

Seeing how Woody is one of the highest-profile defenders of Roman Polanski in his bid to avoid extradition for raping a 13-year-old girl, it's uncomfortable to ponder how often these romances between crusty old men and impressionable young girls crop up in Allen's movies -- and his own life.

If you're looking for video extras, you won't have to search long: Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions contain only the theatrical trailer.

But I guess if Woody is content to dust off hum-drum 30-year-old scripts, it's obvious he wasn't interested in putting in an extra effort. "Whatever Works" mostly doesn't.

Movie: 2 stars
Extras: 1 star

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