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Allen explores old themes in Bullets over Broadway

Bullets over Broadway

Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Starring John Cusack, Jack Warden, Chazz Palminteri, Joe Viterelli, Jennifer Tilly, Rob Reiner, Dianne Wiest, and Tracey Ullman.

Loews Janus.

By Carrie E. Perlman
Staff Reporter

Woody Allen's latest film, Bullets Over Broadway, is a terrific and light-hearted portrait of a playwright struggling to resist the commercialism of show business during the Roaring '20s.

As Allen has often done in his best films, he intertwines comedy with more serious dramatic themes. He examines the unequal distribution of artistic talent and the difficulty of maintaining purity in art. These are important issues to Allen, which he addresses with humor but does not mock.

It is the story of the budding playwright David Shayne, played by John Cusack, who can only produce his latest work with the financial support of the Mafia. The mobster Nick Valenti (Joe Viterelli) is willing to put up all the money if his girlfriend, Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), currently a dancer in the chorus line of a speakeasy, can have one of the lead roles. Needless to say, Olive cannot act. After assembling the cast of the play, including the famous actress Helen Sinclair (Diane Wiest), rehearsals begin.

There is some tension amongst cast members but it is Olive's bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) who causes most of the problems. After initially objecting whenever Shayne tries to cut down Olive's lines, Cheech eventually begins to demonstrate a real knack for plot construction and dialogue. Once recovered from the shock of receiving constructive criticism from a thug, Shayne begins to rely on Cheech's help. Palminteri is wonderful as this unscrupulous gangster with hidden talent.

The other star amongst the cast is Wiest as the eccentric, over-the-hill actress who gets Shayne to see the script her way and rewrite it to make her character just a little less frumpy. Some of the film's funniest scenes take place when Shayne and Sinclair are alone together. Shayne, the supposedly verbose playwright, cannot speak as Sinclair places her hand over his mouth and continually repeats "Don't say anything, don't say anything."

Shayne is persuaded to change his original script for each of these characters. Cusack is good in the role of Shayne , but this character in not as fun as either Cheech or Sinclair.

Santo Loquasto, Allen's set designer for many years, has once again transformed New York in this period film. The 1920s depicted here is very stylized. All violence occurs off screen while mellow jazz plays in the background.

This is unmistakably a Woody Allen film. It contains many similarities to his past films and also displays his unending creativity in this juxtaposition of the theater world and the Mafia.