Picks and Pans Review: Bullets Over Broadway

updated 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dianne Wiest, John Cusack, Jennifer Tilly, Chazz Palminteri, Tracey Ullman

Wiest gets to play a fading Broadway star of the Prohibition era in this Woody Allen comedy, and she is a rip-roaring success—permanently, compulsively on, ripe theatrical diction bellowing from her deep, magnificent pipes. Tallulah Bankhead was a consumptive chipmunk by comparison.

Wiest is part of one of the richest ensembles director-writer Allen has yet assembled. An affectionate send-up of both '20s theater and movies about theater from that period, Bullets is the story of an earnest young playwright (Cusack) who can get his new script produced only with financial backing from the Mafia—which means that he's required to cast a mobster's moll (Tilly) as a psychiatrist.

Even with Wiest purring a hilarious variety of intonations for the line "Don't speak," the movie really belongs to Tilly's bodyguard, Palminteri. But he's its biggest problem too. This henchman has none of the squiggly, neurotic energy one associates with an Allen character. He's emotionally blunt, with eruptions of resentment and passion.

Allen's concise directing style isn't capable of accommodating such strength, and Palminteri gets squashed back into the ensemble. This may explain why the last quarter of the film has the defeated air of a lost opportunity. It's not uncommon for Allen movies to grow wispy after the first hour, but I can't think of one that starts out so confidently, then subsides into such perplexing melancholy. (PG)

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