BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, Woody Allen’s funny, slightly dark valentine to his hometown’s theater biz, circa 1928. Like many a play, it drew rave reviews, then closed after a short run, the movie-going public of 1994 seeking less-sophisticated yocks from the dim-bulb likes of Forrest Gump and Dumb and Dumber. They left it at 98th place, a gross of $13,384,000 wilting against a $20,000,000 cost. Yet, “Don’t speak“, with Dianne Wiest nailing an Academy Award for Supporting Actress, while nominations accrued for Director (Allen), Supporting Actor (Chazz Palminteri), Supporting Actress (Jennifer Tilly), Screenplay (Allen & Doug McGrath), Art Direction (Santo Loquasto) and Costume Design (Jeffrey Kurland).
The late Roaring 20s in New York City. New-to-the-game playwright ‘David Shayne’ (John Cusack) wants to direct his exitential romantic opus “God Of Our Fathers”. Making a devil’s bargain with a gangster to secure financing, he casts the racketeer’s talentless moll ‘Olive Neal’ (Tilly), not the most articulate dame in the deck–as a psychiatrist. Other complications and compromises arrive with faded star and grande dame ‘Helen Sinclair’ (Wiest), pushy hood ‘Cheech’ (Palminteri), ham actor ‘Warner Purcell’ (Jim Broadbent), who eats everything within snarf range, and actress ‘Eden Brent’ (Tracey Ullman), strung higher than a skyscraper, her pet chihuahua in tow.
Although Cusack basically is loaded up with the typical trapped Allen hero bit (Woody too old to pull it off for this storyline), only part of the clever script dallies with been & done angst blabs, turning most of the fun over to the sharply drawn and delightfully played characters vexing the desperate protagonist.
Tilly, Palminteri, Broadbent and Ullman all shine, and the cross-talk is consistently deft. Dominating the lineup, Wiest is perfect, and her flamboyant setting star is the best written of the lot. This marked her 5th time in an Allen picture (she’d already won an Oscar for Hannah And Her Sisters).
The art direction is particularly striking, and as usual Allen has the soundtrack festooned with nifty pop tunes of the day. It does begin to drag some in the last stretch, so keeping it trim at 98 minutes was another smart call. Again, (breathlessly) “Don’t speak…”
With Jack Warden, Joe Viterelli (head cheese ‘Nick Valenti’), Rob Reiner (deliberately on the obnoxious side), Mary-Louise Parker (providing Mia-like neuroses), Harvey Fierstein, Tony Sirico (the first of 7 Allen gigs), Debbie Mazar, Edie Falco, Stacey Nelkin, Dayle Haddon.