'Scenes From a Mall' squanders its characters, setting and story



Touchstone Home Video


Director Paul Mazursky's "Scenes" is mostly forced comedy routines and mean-spirited cracks at the upper-middle class, rendered fairly harmless because the filmmaker's point is never quite clear.

Woody Allen, playing a less pleasant (and less amusing) version of the neurotic middle-aged hero of his own films, is Nick, a successful sports lawyer spending the day at the Beverly Center Mall in Los Angeles with wife Deborah (Bette Midler), a pop psychologist who has written a best-selling book on marriage.

That's the beginning of the ironies here. Deb and Nick are shopping for anniversary supplies to celebrate their 16 years together, but as the day wears on their relationship deteriorates. Nick admits to having recently ended an affair. Deb has a confession of her own to make. Insults are wielded like weapons. Unfortunately, good-natured insights into human weaknesses give way to shrillness and bickering.

Neither Mr. Allen nor Ms. Midler is playing his natural screen character here. While it's initially shocking to see Mr. Allen sporting a pony tail and Southern California duds, it's more revealing to see him stripped of his absurdist sense of humor. Mr. Mazursky and Roger L. Simon (his co-writer on "Enemies") concocted the screenplay, which never succeeds in taking full advantage of character, setting or story.



Buena Vista Home Video


In 1967, the young playwright Tom Stoppard won rave reviews for his "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," a surreal, decidedly modern, existential (if not radical) interpretation of "Hamlet" -- the story here told through the eyes of two of Shakespeare's decidedly minor characters, courtiers who are former friends of Prince Hamlet's, now drawn into the intrigue of his castle life and his tragic story.

More than 20 years later, after rejecting the notion that the play could work on the screen, Mr. Stoppard wrote and directed this film version. It's certain to leave many viewers confused, if not a trifle bored. The play is demanding to begin with, more philosophical than cinematic, and Mr. Stoppard's attempts as writer/director to liven it up for the screen are only sometimes effective.

Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) were drawn by Shakespeare to be comic buffoons who nevertheless have a specific role to play in the story of the Danish prince. In this version, summoned by Hamlet's agitated uncle, the King, they journey to the castle, wondering about their fate and their mission.

Once our boys arrive at the castle, they find Hamlet presiding over madness and chaos. Mr. Oldman is once again a treat for those who like to watch actors at full tilt. Mr. Roth has less to recommend him. After his odd interpretation of Van Gogh in "Vincent and Theo," this performance doesn't suggest a powerful, commanding or indeed effectively comic actor.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad