xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
Woody Allen said in “Manhattan” that Groucho Marx was first on his list of reasons to keep on living. His new film, “Whatever Works,” opens with Groucho singing “Hello, I Must Be Going” from “Animal Crackers.” It serves as the movie’s theme song, summarizing in five words the world view of his hero, Boris Yellnikoff.
Yellnikoff, played with perfect pitch by Larry David, is a nuclear physicist who was once almost nominated for a Nobel Prize, a statement so many of us could make. His field was quantum mechanics, where string theory can be described in the same five words. He’s retired now, divorced from a rich wife who was so perfect for him he couldn’t stand it. He lives in a walk-up in Chinatown and works part-time as a chess instructor to little “inchworms,” who he hits over their heads with the board.
Mostly what he does is hang out at a table in a coffee shop and kvetch with old pals. These scenes seemed perfectly familiar to me because of my long honorary membership in a group centering around Dusty Cohl at the Coffee Mill in Toronto. Boris doesn’t talk with his friends, he lectures them. His speeches spring from the Jewish love of paradox; essentially, life is so fascinating, he can’t take it any longer.
Midway in his remarkable opening monologue, David starts speaking directly to the camera. His friends think he’s crazy. He asks them if they can’t see the people out there — us. Allen developed as a standup comic, and the idea of an actual audience often hovers in his work, most literally in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), where a character climbs down from the screen and joins it. Boris gets up from the table and walks down the sidewalk, continuing to hector the camera about his own brilliance and the general stupidity that confronts him. It is too great a burden for him to exist in a world of such morons and cretins. He hates everyone and everything — in a theoretical way, as befits a physicist. Later that night, he is implored by a homeless waif to give her something to eat, tells her to be about her business, and then relents and invites her in.