WOODY ALLEN'S "Alice" is a film that must be lauded for its inventiveness, and if, in total, it does not exactly thrill, it is most certainly pleasant.
"Alice" is an Allen homage to Federico Fellini, the director who did all this years ago in his "8 1/2 " and "Juliet of the Spirits."
"8 1/2 " was Fellini's examination of his own psyche. "Juliet of the Spirits," released in 1965, allowed Mrs. Fellini, Giuletta Masina, her turn on the cinematic couch.
In "Juliet," fact was mixed very freely with fiction, illusion with reality and ghost with mortal being. Allen does much the same thing in his film, one in which Mia Farrow is a woman married 16 years to a man she may no longer love. A pampered New York on-the-verge matron, her life is one of salon appointments, shopping and conversations with friends whose lives are as idle as hers.
She meets, one day, the father of one of her child's classmates, and for reasons that baffle her, is attracted to the man, so much so that she comes on to him.
At the same time, she has back trouble and is seeing an acupuncturist who gives the woman herbs that do strange things to her. For one, they allow her to become invisible, an advantage the woman uses to spy on the object of her infatuation. She also spies on her husband.
Fellini didn't use this. Masina didn't become invisible, but then Allen is not without originality, and you do have to admire the writer-director for his inventiveness. It's just that, for a time, this is all the new film has, invention. The movie is clever, bright, even funny for a while, but it is a long time before it begins to take on substance.
"Alice," however, is easy to take, for the usual reasons: the cast and the music.
Allen always manages to induce star players to do little more than walk-ons in his films. In "Alice," the "supporting" cast includes Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, William Hurt, Joe Mantegna, Cybill Shepherd, Keye Luke, Blythe Danner, Bernadette Peters, Gwen Verdon and Judith Ivey.
Baldwin plays one of Alice's earlier loves and, as such, is barely visible. That's because he plays a ghost. Only Allen might persuade an actor of Baldwin's stature to play so small a role and fade as he does.
The "Alice" score includes "Limehouse Blues," "Breezin' Along with the Breeze," "I Dream too Much," "Moonglow," "La Cumparsita," "I Remember You," "Moonlight Becomes You," "Darn that Dream," "Alice Blue Gown" and "Will You Still Be Mine?"
"Alice" has other things in its favor, its color and mood. The mood is 1940, and the color, the same. These are more reasons why the film, though not up to Allen's best, is always easy to take.
Farrow, who has now done 11 films with Allen, is almost a female version of the man in "Alice." In vocal and facial mannerism, she is pure Allen, so while Allen himself does not appear in the film, there was no real need to do so.
All the "supporting" players do well. If anyone stands out, it is Peters as Alice's "muse." Give Peters a few lines and she goes the distance with them.
"Alice" opens here today. It is neither major nor minor Allen. It is Allen in between.
"Alice" ** A New York woman, married and the mother of two children, thinks there has to be more to life and begins to explore her options.
CAST: Mia Farrow, Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, William Hurt, Cybill Shepherd, Blythe Danner, Keye Luke, Bernadette Peters, Gwen Verdon, Judith Ivey.
DIRECTOR: Woody Allen
RATING: PG-13 (language)
) RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes