Woody Allen sees double

'Melinda and Melinda' is a tale about alternate realities.

"Melinda and Melinda" is the latest from Woody Allen, whose career reminds me of the emperor's complaint in "Amadeus" that there are "too many notes" in Mozart's music.

Some feel Mr. Allen makes too many movies. As one critic put it, you know another Allen film is due when the quart of milk you bought on your way home from his last one is starting to smell funny in the fridge.

Every time Allen completes a new picture, moviegoers hope it will return him to the glory days of "Annie Hall" and "Zelig." But the results are usually disappointing ("Hollywood Ending,") or downright awful (like "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion").

Allen himself feels making a movie shouldn't be that big a deal - you write it, direct it, then hop along to the next one. But he'd have more consistent success if he spent more time refining his projects.

The good news about "Melinda and Melinda" is that it shows real reflection on Allen's part, mostly about tensions between optimism and pessimism.

The story starts with a friendly debate between two writers who take a single anecdote and spin it out in different ways, one comic and one tragic. Both center on Melinda, a woman whose life is threatening to spin out of control. Her friends and family are different in each version, suggesting that both social influences and inner psychology help determine our experiences.

Although he's usually thought of as a comic filmmaker, Allen has always been interested in life's darker sides, as movies like "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Interiors" prove. Alternating between comedy and drama, "Melinda and Melinda" lets him delve directly - if not as deeply as one might wish - into this fascinating territory.

The bad news about "Melinda and Melinda" is that its milieu is again limited to the urban middle class, the only stratum of society Allen's body of work ever examines. And you won't find many laughs here, even when he strives hardest for high comedy.

Still, this is closer to an Allen comeback than anything else he's made recently. Maybe he'll achieve it with his next movie, "Match Point," due this year. Yes, that milk is starting to smell funny....

Rated PG-13; contains sexuality.

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