leave a comment --Frank Lovece
Woody Allen's period-piece paean to tough-but-softhearted broads and the wisecracking investigators who love 'em. Manhattan, 1940: Rumpled C.W. Briggs (writer-director Allen), a top investigator for North Coast Casualty and Fidelity, is constantly butting heads with forward-thinking efficiency expert Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt). She, meanwhile, is having an affair with the otherwise sweet and well-meaning company head, Magruder (Dan Aykroyd). When the office gang takes a colleague out for his birthday, nightclub mentalist Voltan (the masterful David Ogden Stiers) hypnotizes Briggs and Fitzgerald and tells them they're in love. Before snapping them out of it, Voltan also plants sinister post-hypnotic suggestions that he later uses to force the unwary Briggs, with his knowledge of clients' security systems, to rob mansions for him. Briggs, who has no memory of the thefts, is eventually arrested after an investigation of which he himself is part. Scattered amid these goings-on are a rich, slumming femme fatale (the hilariously deadpan Charlize Theron) and a sexy/innocent secretary (Elizabeth Berkley), who's adapted to the "wink and tickle" office politics of the day. An affectionate ode to the mile-a-minute Manhattan comedies of the 1930s and '40s, this is a rare contemporary live-action comedy that goes for laughter rooted in wit, rather than vulgarity or gross-out humor. Love him or hate him, Allen occupies a rarefied place among modern-day directors as the auteur of such miraculous comedies as ANNIE HALL, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, and insert-your-own-handful-of-titles here. If this film is "merely" good (remember, overcritical fans have been complaining he's not "as funny as he used to be" since before he himself started joking about it in 1980's STARDUST MEMORIES), it's still funnier than most. Its shortcomings lie in the pace, which doesn't quite snap, and in its wealth of potentially interesting supporting characters who are either undeveloped or simply disappear, as if Allen were too tired to flesh them out. (He likewise recycles one of his famous short-story lines, regarding "a body that just won't quit.") The film's biggest drawback is a tragic Catch-22: It needs Woody Allen to play the Woody Allen character (as critics carped about CELEBRITY). But the 65-year-old Allen simply isn't convincing as the guy who gets the girl (the real life of a rich and famous filmmaker notwithstanding). Sad to say, this charming and funny film may be one of the last of a rare genre deservedly named after a person the Woody Allen movie.