Mighty Aphrodite

Ye gods

Sean Means

Some things just shouldn't add up. How do you merge two of the darkest elements in all of storytelling -- Greek drama and Woody Allen's psyche -- and come up with something as light as Mighty Aphrodite? Maybe only the gods know.

The Woodman plays sportwriter Lenny Weinrib, who is persuaded by his wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) to adopt a baby. Though reluctant at first, Lenny takes to this parenting thing pretty well, and becomes a doting father to his son Max. (Any parallels between this story and Woody's relations with the children he and Mia Farrow adopted are, I'm sure, purely coincidental.)

When Max scores genius-level on his IQ tests, Lenny becomes obsessed with finding Max's biological parents. Obsession turns to shock when he learns Max's biological mother is Linda (Mira Sorvino), a dimwitted hooker and porn star whose Minnie Mouse voice could crack plaster. Lenny decides to help Linda out, first by paying off her pimp with Knicks tickets, and then by setting her up with an equally simple-minded boxer (Michael Rapaport). But while Lenny tries to sort out Linda's life, he fails to notice that Amanda is falling sway to her smarmy boss (Peter Weller).

Since Lenny's behavior exhibits the traits of Greek tragedy -- hubris, obsession, the desire to play God -- it's only natural for Woody to include his own Greek chorus, complete with traditional masks and commentaries recited in unison. Woody's chorus, led by F. Murray Abraham, soon gets into the act: visiting Woody in the Hamptons, singing Cole Porter and dropping Borscht Belt one-liners. (When Lenny's marriage is slipping away, the soothsaying Cassandra issues a dire warning: "I see disaster! I see catastrophe! Worse, I see lawyers!") Allen even ends with a "deus ex machina", a tidy plot convenience that literally drops out of the sky.

Allen manages to keep the humor light, thanks to his own physical comedy and Mira Sorvino's starmaking performance. Sorvino (who appeared in Quiz Show and Barcelona, and is the daughter of actor Paul Sorvino) plays dumb as intelligently as any actress this side of Judy Holliday, as well as making Linda as touching as she is funny. Mighty Aphrodite may not be top-level Woody, but Sorvino makes it a small gem.