ALLEN TOWN

Stark type against a black background, actors' names listed alphabetically, Louis Armstrong singing "Just One of Those Things"--Miami Rhapsody's titles let us know at once that we're in Woody Allen Land. The letters are in purple, however, not in Allen's traditional white, presumably to suggest the flashier colors appropriate to the tropical setting. One's hopes for the picture are likewise that it will give something new, some dash of Floridian spice, to Allenesque musings on love and fidelity.

Not this time. David Frankel, the young writer-director, decided to openly acknowledge his imitation of Allen, as Brian DePalma did with Hitchcock for a while. So Frankel frames the film with a shot of his heroine, Sarah Jessica Parker, addressing the camera directly, as Allen did in Annie Hall. He plays many scenes in one long shot, as Allen is fond of doing, and at one point, he blatantly nods to Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The irony is that Frankel is doing to Allen what Allen did so often, and so tiresomely, throughout the last couple of decades--making scrupulous knockoffs in the styles of filmmakers he respected, like Fellini and Bergman. And like such Allen films as Interiors, Another Woman and Stardust Memories, most of Miami Rhapsody is well-wrought but bloodless.

In the last few years, Allen seems to have emerged from this cautious phase and taken from it a lean, mature style he can call his own. Since Frankel--though he's no Allen--does show some real talent, here's hoping the same may one day be said of him.

The theme is a workable one--the near ubiquity of adultery in modern marriage. In flashbacks, Parker tells the story of how, just after becoming engaged to her zookeeper boyfriend (Gil Bellows), she learns that her mother (Mia Farrow) is having an affair with a Cuban male nurse (Antonio Banderas). Parker's shock is doubled when, shortly thereafter, she's told that her father (Paul Mazursky) has also been unfaithful, and that her brother (Kevin Pollak) is leaving his pregnant wife (Barbara Garrick) to take up with a supermodel (Naomi Campbell). It's as if the instinct to be unfaithful is as strong as the instinct to vow fidelity. Yet while all of this evidence (and more) seemingly against marriage mounts in front of her, everyone keeps asking her when she's going to set the date.

There are some good one-liners--plenty, indeed, on which Allen might not be embarrassed to put his name. Jack Wallner's cinematography makes Miami look sexy, and the actors are on the job. Banderas shows particular flair for romantic comedy, Carla Gugino shines as Parker's smiling, lewd-minded younger sister and Kelly Bishop has a good bit as Mazursky's mistress. But at some point, the working out of the schematic became tiresome to me--I knew the film wasn't going to arrive at any conclusions that weren't arrived at in Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Besides, though it pains me to say so, the star gives the film's one uninspired performance (not counting Campbell, who simply isn't an actress). I've been charmed by Parker--her buoyant energy and pony-faced beauty--every time I've seen her, until now. It may be that, gifted though she is, she doesn't have the imposing presence required to carry the brunt of a film like this. The strain shows in Miami Rhapsody. There's a certain glum spiritlessness, a lack of variety, to her readings. Many of Frankel's best jokes don't come across as she delivers them. Miami Rhapsody isn't a disgrace. It was made with skill and taste, and a lot of people may find it pleasing. But there's nothing to account for those titles being purple. It isn't a bad movie, it just isn't a rhapsody--it's more like a series of careful, craftsmanlike, overly respectful variations on another composer's theme.

 
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