Picks and Pans Review: Manhattan Murder Mystery

updated 08/23/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/23/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston, AlanAlda

This is Allen's most enjoyable movie since his segment in 1989's anthology film New York Stories, not least because it marks the return of Keaton as his leading lady. (Mia Farrow left just before production started, when the Soon-Yi scandal broke.) Keaton gives a beautiful performance as a comfortable Upper East Side housewife trying to solve a possible murder down the corridor. Watching her is like being sat down before a spinning gold watch (only the watch is lopsided, like a Dali model) and reduced to a blissful trance. It's only afterward that you might find yourself wondering whether Keaton is in quite tip-top form, and whether, in fact, Huston, with her sharp-angled cool, doesn't steal the movie in her scenes as a novelist who finally makes sense of the crime.

The film isn't really about the mystery—which winds down, rather than up—but about Keaton's growing excitement as she ponders such clues as a funeral urn tucked away in a kitchen cabinet. "I'm dizzy with freedom!" she cries, after ransacking the suspect's apartment. Allen, as her book-editor husband, functions largely as the sarcastic voice of reason. (He tells her she needs to go back into therapy.) Their interplay, alternately bristling and romantic, is as chattily neurotic as it was 18 years ago in Love and Death. Alda, a recently divorced writer who has always harbored a crush on Keaton, has one funny scene in which he grins at her with helpless, fatuous puppy love. Beyond that, he's Alan Alda.

Allen cowrote the screenplay with Marshall Brickman, his collaborator on Annie Hall and Manhattan. Their dialogue is deft, funny, close to perfect. They should begin rewriting the entire Agatha Christie oeuvre immediately. (PG)

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