|Dianne Weist and the ensemble|
"I just pity any poor folk who have to pay to see this play."
In order to get his play mounted on Broadway, David Shayne (John Cusack of City Hall) allows in an inappropriate cast member, Olive (Jennifer Tilly of Seed of Chucky), because her mobster boyfriend, Nick (Joe Viterelli), decides to back the show. Nick assigns a bodyguard to Olive, a hit man named Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), who starts making impromptu critiques of the play .. only his criticisms are valid. Before long it's a question of who is the true artist behind the show. But what can one do about the screeching and awful Olive? Woody Allen does not appear in Bullets Over Broadway -- which is a plus or minus depending on how you look at it -- and it's another of Allen's pastiche films inspired by superior forties movies with a "modern"-type sensibility. It's another in a long line of movies that present sympathetic hit men, for one thing, while also showing him committing several murders. The movie takes place during the roaring twenties but it doesn't have much period atmosphere. Dianne Wiest won a supporting actress Oscar for her role of the diva Helen Sinclair, but while she is good, it's hard not to notice that she's simply trading off of decades of previous actresses who have played affected, breathless theater and movie stars; nothing new here. John Cusack is fine, although this is an actor who through no fault of his own is just hopelessly bland no matter what he's in. Tracey Ullman [Into the Woods] has a nice turn as an ever-laughing cast member who always carries her little dog with her, and Jack Warden is good as David's agent, but no one else is especially impressive, except perhaps Annie Joe Edwards, who is snappy as Olive's maid, Venus, but whom Allen doesn't allow to become a character in her own right. The movie is fairly entertaining and has some good twists and humor, but it's also kind of stupid, with the whole notion of a sensitive, artistic hit man being a little too precious for this critic to swallow. Allen may have been thinking of himself when he has Rob Reiner say "An artist creates his own moral universe." For those who hate Jennifer Tilly's voice and think she's a freak of nature, you'll especially enjoy one scene that comes late in the movie. To be fair, Tilly's performance is good even if she herself is a little flesh-crawling.
Verdict: The actors seem to be having more fun than the audience. **1/2.