A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
All men live under a sentence of death. They all go sooner or later. But I'm different. I have to go at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. It would have been 5, but I had a good lawyer...
So muses Woody Allen, in the character of a peasant named Boris, at the beginning of "Love and Death." The quotation serves as an illustration of the film's strategy, which is to juxtapose serious matters with a cheerful comic anarchy. Sometimes that's just a case of setting up a portentous situation and attacking it with a punch line, but Allen frequently finds a way to make his point visually, and "Love and Death" is his most ambitious experiment with the comic possibilities of film.
That's not to say Woody isn't still largely a verbal comedian, because he is, and one of the movie's running gags is an interminable debate about the philosophical and moral choices offered the characters at every turn. But "Love and Death" has been mapped out as a fully thought-through film. It's a lot more mature than the anything-goes style of earlier Allen movies like "Bananas."
Allen's premise is a simple one. Imagine the basic Woody Allen character -- shy, incompetent, totally fascinated by women and scared to death of them, secretly romantic -- and put him in a time warp that leads back to Russia at the time of Napoleon. Give him a childhood encounter with Death (who looks, of course, as he did in "The Seventh Seal") and give him a question for Death: "What's it like after you die? Are there any girls?" Raise him to be a "militant coward," draft him and send him off to fight the French, and then marry him to a beautiful girl who takes pity on him because (she hopes) he will be shot dead in a duel.