Alice

By Desson Howe

January 25, 1991

A modest proposal: That a group of movie-loving activists in ski masks invade Woody Allen's luxurious penthouse, spirit him out of Manhattan and force him to write his next movie without the help of his inner circle of friends and associates, without his endless obsession for moral themes, without a guest-list cast of celebrities and, most definitely, without Mia Farrow.

It used to be the new Woody Allen picture was something to look forward to -- and this doesn't just mean (as Allen once joked) the "earlier, funny ones."

Along comes "Alice," his 20th work, and things ain't the same any more. At its best the movie displays a vital playfulness. But at its worst -- and there's far too much of that -- "Alice" continues Allen's endless, banal quest for the Big Answers. All, of course, at the mild-mannered elbow of Farrow.

In her 11th collaboration with Allen, Farrow's the unfulfilled wife of William Hurt, leading a Manhattan life of shopping and picking up the children. When she meets fellow parent Joe Mantegna (whose amusingly hesitant performance is one of the movie's better elements), temptation hits her unawares.

From then on, life for her (and you) becomes a whiny should-I-or-shouldn't-I? dilemma.

"I can't just go out and commit adultery," complains this woman, who worships Mother Theresa, wants to be a nun and also wants to be a writer. "This is a big step for me."

Lady, take the step already or get thee to a nunnery.

The playfulness kicks in when Farrow meets an eccentric doctor-cum-hedonist (a comedically graceful turn by the late Keye Luke -- Charlie Chan's "Number One Son"), who encourages her to follow her desires. He gives her a potent mixture that allows her temporary invisibility. When she spies on Hurt, she finds out some shocking truths. It also makes for some amusing situations when her invisibility wears off without warning.

A perfectly likable performer, Farrow is to Allen's movies what Mark Rypien is to the Redskins. She gets incrementally better each time but it hardly seems worth the affirmative action. She may have her moments, but she never rises majestically to the occasion.

Guest persons Cybill Shepherd, Blythe Danner, Alec Baldwin (as the ghost of a former lover), Judy Davis, Judith Ivey, Gwen Verdon and others pretty much remain guest persons. But Bernadette Peters has a funny cameo as a Long Island-accented Muse, who appears before writer's-blocked Farrow.

"The important part is inspiration," Peters declares. "Dat's where I come in."

Da problem is, da Muse didn't quite come in for Allen.

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