A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Val Waxman is a movie director going through a slow period in his career. Maybe it's more like a slow decade. He left his last movie project, explaining, "I quit over a big thing." What was that? "They fired me." Then he gets a big break, Galaxie Studios has just green-lighted "The City that Never Sleeps," and his ex-wife has convinced the studio head that Val, despite his laundry list of psychosomatic anxieties and neurotic tics, is the right guy to direct it.
Woody Allen's new comedy "Hollywood Ending" quickly adds a complication to this setup: Waxman goes blind. It may all be in his mind, but he can't see a thing. For his ever-smiling agent Al Hack (Mark Rydell), this is insufficient cause to leave the project. Al says he will glide through the picture at Waxman's elbow, and no one will ever notice. When the studio demurs at the agent being on the set, Al and Val recruit another seeing-eye man: The business student (Barney Cheng) who has been hired as the translator for the Chinese cinematographer. The translator says he'll blend right in: "I will practice casual banter." Further complications: Waxman's ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) is now engaged to Hal (Treat Williams), the head of Galaxie Studios. Waxman casts his current squeeze, Lori (Debra Messing), for a supporting role in the movie, but while Lori is away at a spa getting in shape, co-star Sharon (Tiffani Thiessen) moves on Waxman. In his dressing room, she removes her robe while explaining that she is eager to perform sexual favors for all of her directors (Waxman, who cannot see her abundant cleavage, helpfully suggests she advertise this willingness in the Directors' Guild magazine).
What is Val Waxman's movie about? We have no idea. Neither does Waxman, who agrees with every suggestion so he won't have to make any decisions. He's not only blind but apparently has ears that don't work in stereo, since he can't tell where people are standing by the sound of their voices, and spends much of his time gazing into space. No one notices this, maybe because directors are such gods on movies that they can get away with anything.
The situation is funny and Allen of course populates it with zingy one-liners, orchestrated with much waving of the hands (he's a virtuoso of body language). But somehow the movie doesn't get over the top. It uses the blindness gimmick in fairly obvious ways, and doesn't bring it to another level--to build on the blindness instead of just depending on it. When Waxman confesses his handicap to the wrong woman--a celebrity journalist--because he thinks he's sitting next to someone he can trust, that's very funny. But too often he's just seen with a vacant stare, trying to bluff his way through conversations.