Glamour shot

Woody Allen dissects fame, art, and sex in Celebrity

The least successful part of Celebrity deals with the "issues" that gather under the enormous circus tent of the title. Although he decorates this glitzy gray world with an amusing melange of cameos from Donald Trump, Joey Buttafuoco, Bruce Jay Friedman, Isaac Mizrahi, and many others, the director never really makes a firm connection between fame and romantic destiny. Branagh and Davis could well experience the same amorous perambulations if they were insurance salespeople or air-conditioning repairers. The closest he comes to actually uniting the two is in Davis' ironic transformation: she goes from a dark-haired, romantically frustrated literature teacher to a blond, fulfilled TV celebrity interviewer. Meanwhile, at the movie's end, the avaricious Woody stand-in Branagh remains stuck, hollow-eyed, on an endless conveyor belt that carries him through a succession of beds. Saddled with what may be a mediocre literary talent but wanting to capture truth and beauty with his novels, he appears fated to constantly pervert truth through his sexual chicanery and know beauty only in the form of young women to be compulsively devoured.

Is the Branagh character in Celebrity just Allen doing public penance? You suspect that, but here Branagh and his writer-director have managed something more haunting than town-square self-flagellation: they've created a man whose appetites will always be greater than his abilities. And for an artist like Woody Allen, who possesses plenty of both, there can be no scarier fate on the planet.

Directed and written by Woody Allen. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, and Famke Janssen. Opens Friday.

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