The Mark of Woody Allen

Film intended as tribute to Allen shows he's better behind the camera. REVIEW

WOODY ALLEN is everywhere these days. ``Alice,'' which he wrote and directed, is now in theaters. He stars in ``Scenes From a Mall,'' the new Paul Mazursky film. And his spirit hovers over Steve Martin's comedy ``L.A. Story,'' which resembles the part of ``Annie Hall'' that moved to Los Angeles and ripped off one California joke after another.

The latest of these Woodyisms is ``Scenes From a Mall,'' which was inspired partly by Mr. Allen and partly by Ingmar Bergman, whose classic ``Scenes From a Marriage'' told the story of a husband-wife relationship over a period of years.

``Scenes From a Mall'' covers the same kind of territory in a single day. And a single setting - a Los Angeles shopping mall that looks exactly like every other mall you've ever seen, only a little bigger and glitzier than most.

It's in this mall that Nick and Deborah, played by Allen and Bette Midler, spend most of their 16th wedding anniversary. For some reason, Nick - a successful lawyer turned businessman - chooses this place and time to reveal some startling news to Deborah: that he's been having an affair with another woman. Deborah reacts in all kinds of ways, some of them mature (she's a psychotherapist, after all) and some as infuriated as she feels. Then she zaps Nick with similar news of her own, which dr aws the same kinds of responses from him.

And so it goes - emotions shuttling back and forth all day, peppered with sight gags and punch lines in case we forget this is supposed to be a comedy. A mime, played by Bill Irwin, dogs the couple throughout their nonstop confessions and reconciliations.

Mr. Mazursky, who directed the picture from a screenplay he wrote with Roger L. Simon, is a filmmaker who loves filmmakers: He had John Cassavetes play a role in his drama ``Tempest'' years ago, and featured Federico Fellini in ``Alex in Wonderland,'' one of his more memorable comedies. ``Scenes From a Mall'' is clearly meant as a tribute to Allen, and to make the imitation complete, Mazursky has hired Allen himself to play the lead.

You have to admire Mazursky for showing his respect so openly. What you don't have to admire is the movie. It's similar to one of Allen's least impressive efforts, full of shallow people whining about shallow things.

Mazursky gets credit for trying something daring, since almost the whole story takes place in that mall. But the director doesn't have enough visual imagination to pull off the stunt, and the place gets awfully boring to look at.

Eventually the whole movie gets so dull that you wonder why such talented people got involved with such a lackluster project.

The probable answer is that it looked great on the drawing board, providing opportunities for social satire and barbed comments on American consumerism. Sadly, almost none of the opportunities pan out; and in the end ``Scenes From a Mall'' doesn't cleverly resolve its situations, but just dribbles away as if the filmmakers had run out of film.

Here's hoping Mazursky goes back to making real Mazursky films like ``An Unmarried Woman'' and ``Enemies, a Love Story,'' and that Allen hurries back behind his own camera - and thinks twice the next time he's tempted to stand in front of somebody else's.

``L.A. Story'' also seems inspired by Woody Allen, partly because of its ``Annie Hall'' resemblance and partly because it switches between fantasy and reality just as ``Alice'' does.

Mr. Martin is one of Hollywood's smartest comedians, with a list of commendably daring films on his resume. He gives a nicely whimsical performance as the lovelorn television weatherperson at the center of ``L.A. Story.'' In all, the film lacks the substance of Martin's hit ``Roxanne'' and the audacity of ``Pennies From Heaven'' and ``Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid,'' which at least had a bold eccentricity to recommend them. It's amusing and likable, but so slender you start forgetting it before it's over.

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