Don't Drink The Water

Nathan Rabin

It's no wonder that Woody Allen's Don't Drink The Water--a 1994 TV adaptation of a 1966 play set in 1961 that had previously been turned into a little-seen 1969 Jackie Gleason vehicle--feels as timely as a newsreel demonstration of how to survive a nuclear war. It's a bigger surprise that the Cold War farce's dated nature is only one of many flaws undermining Allen's less-than-triumphant return to television as a director and star. Allen was apparently unhappy with his play's previous film adaptation, which was co-written and directed by Gomer Pyle veterans, but watching his stiff, sluggishly paced farce, it's difficult to see what anyone saw in Water in the first place. Operating in perspiring, tic-and-mannerism-infected comic overdrive, Allen stars as the anxiety-ridden patriarch of a vulgar working-class family that seeks refuge in an American embassy after being mistaken for spies while traveling in Eastern Europe. Michael J. Fox co-stars as the acting head of the embassy, the bumbling, underachieving son of the real embassy chief, a stern politician who does little to hide his disdain for Fox. A supporting turn from Dom DeLuise as a magic-loving priest brings comic zest to the proceedings, but it says something sad about a Woody Allen project when DeLuise can steal every scene. As a performer, Allen works double-time to try to goose life and energy into the project, but his work as writer and director betrays a profound laziness. He makes no attempt to hide his script's claustrophobic staginess, and he uses enough long, static takes that you might think his editor charged by the cut. It's often said that Allen's early comedies are more entertaining than his later work, but his lifeless adaptation of Water seems intent on disproving that notion by demonstrating that his early projects can be as dull and trying as any of his Fellini- and Bergman-inspired dramas.

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