on November 20, 1998 by Christine James
Writer/helmer Woody Allen doesn't star in his umpteenth black comedy to probe mid-life crisis infidelities, but he has directed, or at least permitted, Kenneth Branagh to emulate his stammering, neurotic persona practically to a degree of mimicry--an unwise move, as the actor comes off with all of the slime but none of the nebbish charm Allen is usually able to evince. Worse, the film's intent to demonstrate the inclination of our society to make celebrities out of just about anybody fails to do so with any clarity or cleverness.
   Branagh stars as Lee Simon, a feature writer and would-be novelist who has divorced his wife of 16 years, the frazzled, insecure Robin (Judy Davis), and now spends most of his waking hours pursuing sexual dalliances with actresses and supermodels who, against all odds, seem inclined to comply. The Hollywood luminaries Lee gets caught up with--from a leading lady with selective morals (Melanie Griffith) to a self-involved runway diva (Charlize Theron) to a bad-boy movie star with a proclivity for gambling, drugs and orgies (Leonardo DiCaprio)--are depicted as abhorrently shallow, yet there is no satiric commentary, wit or insight to accompany this rather trite observation that stars are id-driven egomaniacs.
   As no sympathy is evoked for the hapless but sleazy Lee, few laughs can be wrung out of his self-imposed downward spiral. Only the character of Robin, as rendered by the unfailingly fabulous Allen staple Davis, incites a rooting interest as the hopelessly screwed-up woman scorned who manages, however bumpily, to turn her life around with the help and support of her unfathomably kind and loving new beau (Joe Mantegna). Her performance aside, "Celebrity" should fade into obscurity faster than it takes Kato Kaelin's roots to grow in. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Famke Janssen, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria and Bebe Neuwirth. Directed and written by Woody Allen. Produced by Jean Doumanian. A Miramax release. Comedy. Rated R for language, sex and some drug use. Running time: 113 min
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