Picking Up the Pieces

Scott Weinberg

Alfonso Arau’s Picking Up the Pieces is a movie that’s destined to live in the “What were they thinking?” bin for a long, long time. Arau, an experienced character actor and director of such varied movies as Like Water for Chocolate and A Walk in the Clouds, seemingly directed this bizarre farce while under the influence of LSD. How else can we explain this movie, which tells the story of Tex ( Woody Allen), a butcher who dismembers his unfaithful wife ( Sharon Stone), only to lose her hand. The hand then inexplicably begins causing miracles in the tiny New Mexico town of El Nino. (Ha! El Nino! Get it?) But these are no ordinary miracles; while some of the town’s citizens begin to lose their disabilities (one women regains her eyesight while a crippled man grows new legs!), others wish for more ‘practical’ miracles (a flat-chested girl prays for huge breasts, and a midget acquires a massive penis).

The ringleader in El Nino is a young priest ( David Schwimmer, playing the most Jewish priest ever committed to film) who is having an affair with a gorgeous hooker ( Maria Grazia Cucinotta). When the townsfolk catch wind of the miracles, everyone lines up to make a wish, and all of a sudden this tiny little backwater is booming with tourists and newfound cash. As the mayor, Cheech Marin does whatever he can to keep the dismembered hand considered a ‘miracle’ despite the fact that Tex and Texas Ranger Bobo (Sutherland) show up and basically tell everyone where the hand came from. Things go from strange to bizarre when a trio of investigating church officials ( Elliot Gould, Fran Drescher and Andy Dick) show up to expose the hand.

You can see the comedic jabs that Arau and first-time screenwriter Bill Wilson are trying to throw, but the gags are delivered in such a colourless style, that it becomes almost painful. Scene after scene promises something off-centre, but just being ‘off-centre’ doesn’t automatically make for an entertaining experience. It’s as if the entire cast is spouting ‘inside jokes’ none of which the audience is in on.

Nearly every scene features a bizarre occurrence, yet none come close to making this an entertaining film. Sure, it’s kinda neat to see Allen share the screen with Schwimmer, but how long does that novelty last when the movie they’re in is so strangely boring? The liner notes for the DVD quote Arau as saying “This film is made in the style of Magical Realism…A bit of magic through the eyes of the character is used to help him philosophically face reality.” I may not be a film scholar, but that just sounds like flowery talk about a movie that’s so bizarre, so weird and so ‘out there’ that it couldn’t even earn a small theatrical release. I was hoping to enjoy this one, especially with the cast involved, but just because you have a strong cast, that doesn’t mean you have a good movie.

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