There's one thing missing from the latest Woody Allen flick. Not angst (there's plenty of that). Not jokes - (there are loads of those). Not female co-stars young enough to be Allen's nieces (there are quite enough of them to go round). And it's certainly not New York City.
Nope, the only thing missing from this typically Allen offering is the Wood-man himself. He's finally decided that he's just too old to romance the likes of Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen and Winona Ryder, and so he's cast Kenneth Branagh instead.
Of course, this isn't the first Allen film that Allen hasn't appeared in; nor is it the first in which he's cast someone else inthe sort of nervy, nerdy role he'd usually save for himself (John Cusack in Bullets Over Broadway is a prime example).
But Branagh's role as journo Lee Simon isn't just nervy and nerdy - it's a flat-out impersonation. For the first half it drives you mad, but even though you sort of get used to him by the third act, you can't help wishing that Woody had played it himself. Who cares if he's too old? That's been part of the joke for years.
While Branagh's accent and agitated performance grate the nerves, the rest of the cast are great, with fine cameos from Joe Mantegna and Hank Azaria. DiCaprio is only in it for 10 minutes, but his edgy turn as a reckless, room-wrecking star is a timely, post-Titanic reminder that he's a talented actor first and a pin-up idol second.
Of course there are loads of women, this being an Allen film. Take the young and funny Theron and Ryder. Or the more mature Melanie Griffith (who, playing a vacuous, beautiful actress, doesn't seem to realise she's being sent up). And then there's the supremely comic Judy Davis, whose character's transformation from nobody to TV superstar supplies a wry comment on the state of Stateside telly. Her side-splitting scene where she attempts to give a blow job to a banana is one of the many funny moments she seizes from the witty screenplay.
But Woody's script casts the satirical net far too wide, taking potshots at just about every variety of fame imaginable, and it lacks the sharp focus of classics such as Manhattan and Crimes And Misdemeanours.
It's doubtful whether Allen will make anything as good as either of these again, for unlike other recent offerings, Celebrity doesn't even come close. Sure, there's plenty for fans to enjoy between the reassuringly familiar white-on-black opening credits and the closing punchline, but Branagh pretending to be Woody is no substitute for the real thing, spoiling what could have been an enjoyable addition to the angst maestro's extensive filmography.
Replace Branagh with Allen and you'd have a fine comedy about the downside of fame. The script isn't one of Allen's sharpest, but it has some good gags and a fine cast of old pros and new faces. Sadly, Branagh's Woody impression ruins an already overlong film.
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