Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Alice (1990)
Studio Line: MGM

For 16 years, Alice Tate (Farrow) has been ignored by her husband (Hurt), spoiled by wealth and tranquilzed by boredom. But when she unexpectedly falls for sexy musician (Mantegna) and impulsively consults a mysterious Chinese herbalist for advice, Alice begins a madcap journey into a strange new world of possibilities. But as she begins to realize who she is and what she values, Alice must also confront her deepest fears and decide how far she'll go for loveÖand what she'll risk to change her destiny.

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Joe Mantegna, Mia Farrow, William Hurt, June Squibb
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9; audio English Monaural, French & Spanish Monaural; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 16 chapters; rated PG-13; 106 min.; $19.98; 6/5/01.
Supplements: Trailer; Collectible Booklet.
Purchase: DVD | The Woody Allen Collection Set 2

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/C+/D-

In some of my other reviews, Iíve noted that occasionally Iíll sharply turn against a movie that I once liked. That happens sometimes. Periodically Iíll enjoy a movie but not notice its flaws until that second screening. This doesnít occur frequently, but it does take place from time to time.

Logically, this happens more than the reverse simply because Iím much more likely to rewatch a flick I liked than one I didnít enjoy. Actually, I can recount plenty of instances in which I maintained a lackluster attitude toward a movie after that first viewing but I came to adore it later; programs like Aliens and Batman. Nonetheless, those werenít examples of pictures I actively disliked, so it remains more unusual for me to alter my opinion in that latter situation.

Since circumstances occasionally conspire to force me to check out a movie I hated, I occasionally have a modest change of heart toward that kind of flick. Into this category we must place 1990ís Woody Allen offering called Alice. I saw the film theatrically back then and I absolutely loathed it. I felt it was excessively cute and patronizing, and I couldnít stand it.

I only decided to give it a second chance because it appeared as part of a boxed set with four other Allen flicks from the era. As a package deal, I felt bound to review Alice, though I didnít look forward to it. Actually, I felt mildly curious, as I wondered if Iíd still feel such a passionately negative attitude toward it.

Obviously I changed my mind, though not to an extreme degree. Alice follows Alice Tate (Mia Farrow), a spoiled rich woman married to a distant man named Doug (William Hurt). Though she remains busy with lots of frivolous activities, her life lacks passion. As such, after she meets a guy named Joe (Joe Mantegna) at her kidsí preschool, she embarks on a friendship that leads to an affair.

All of that sounds ordinary enough, I suppose, but one ďcleverĒ twist sets Alice apart from the pack. A mousy, wimpy woman, Alice lacks the nerve to do much on her own. After a number of people refer her to the mysterious Dr. Yang (Keye Luke) to fix her aching back, she meets with him and receives a number of potions that have nothing to do with her sacroiliac. One of these allows Alice to loosen up in front of Joe, while another lets her become invisible. Aided by these concoctions, Alice starts to delve more deeply into her life, especially as it relates to her relationships with her husband, her sister Dorothy (Blythe Danner) and others. She starts to see the shallowness of the faÁade she created and grows more dissatisfied with her circumstances.

My main problem with Alice remains the cutesy manner in which the material is treated. When Allen doesnít appear in his films, the lead often acts as his surrogate. While the character of Alice doesnít maintain much resemble the classic Allen, Farrow plays her in a stereotypically Woody manner. She manifests a number of tics and awkward traits that evoked his performances, and these tendencies really got on my nerves.

Even without those choices, Alice would suffer from too many precious moments. The scene in which Alice meets her muse (Bernadette Peters) really made me want to retch, and the whole invisibility gimmick got old quickly.

Actually, the word ďgimmickyĒ works well to sum up much of Alice. While this film purports to tell a tale of self-examination and change, I disliked that fact that so much of it came through external tricks. Not until the end does Alice need to do anything for herself, and I found it unsatisfying that she needed to be manipulated or cajoled to do any of this. As such, the movie felt less like a series of honest revelations than a mix of goofy accidents. When Alice does make substantial changes, they seemed difficult to believe, for she didnít really earn them.

So far it may be difficult to tell that I did like Alice more during my second viewing. Note that I never claimed to truly enjoy the film; the difference is that I loathed it the first time but now I just moderately dislike it. I will acknowledge that Allen neatly skewers the idle rich. These folks waste thousands of dollars on useless gewgaws and worry about the right Kindergarten to best facilitate entry into an Ivy League school. In a way, Allenís nasty depiction of these people felt hypocritical since he usually features fatuous swells with similarly useless preoccupations, but I enjoyed his take nonetheless.

Otherwise, I canít say that Alice did much for me. The movie remains a simplistic fantasy that lacks much depth. On second viewing, it didnít actively irritate me to the degree it achieved more than a decade ago, but that remains faint praise. Alice isnít one of Woody Allenís absolute worst films, but itís an obnoxious dud anyway.

The DVD:

Alice appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although a few concerns cropped up during the film, as a whole it presented a reasonably solid picture.

Sharpness remained nicely crisp and detailed throughout the movie. A few interior shots showed minor softness, but these were rare instances. For the most part, the film offered a distinct and detailed appearance. Jagged edges werenít a concern, but I saw occasional examples of moirť effects plus a touch of edge enhancement. Print flaws were also minor. Grain cropped up at times, and I also detected some grit, specks, marks, and a scratch or two. Nonetheless, these didnít present a major intrusion.

While Alice didnít provide a tremendously varied palette, it reproduced colors well. Red dominated the film, mainly through Aliceís outfits. These tones appeared clear and vivid, and they showed no signs of bleeding or noise. Other hues were less prominent but they seemed to be equally solid. Black levels came across as deep and rich, and shadow detail looked generally distinct. Some low-light sequences appeared to be a little drab and murky, but overall they presented reasonable accuracy. Ultimately, Alice didnít offer a stellar visual experience, but it worked well nonetheless.

As with virtually all other Woody Allen films, Alice offered only a monaural soundtrack. While the piece remained acceptably clear at all times, it lacked much range and it often appeared to be somewhat flat. Speech often sounded reasonably natural and crisp, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility, but mild edginess affected some lines. Alice combined old musical recordings with newer fare. While the latter sounded cleaner, both lacked strong dynamics, and they came across as rather bland. Effects were the least significant aspect of the track. Though they featured the same tinny qualities heard in the other elements, they remained subdued enough that it didnít really matter. Overall, Alice provided an acceptable mix for the material, but it didnít deliver any especially positive aspects.

Apparently Woody Allen doesnít care for DVD extras, which is why none of the DVDs for his films include many. That is also the case for Alice. All we find are some moderately interesting production notes within the four-page booklet and also the movieís theatrical trailer.

Although I currently feel more positively toward Alice than I did a decade ago, I still canít claim to be a fan of the movie. It offers a few moderately funny scenes but it seems to be undone by its gimmicky silliness. The DVD features good picture with bland sound and virtually no extras. Woody Allen die-hards may get a kick out of Alice, but others should probably stick with some of his better-known work.

Note: Alice can be purchased on its own or as part of the Woody Allen Collection 1987-1992. The latter also includes Another Woman, September, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Shadows and Fog. Unlike packages such as The Oliver Stone Collection or The New Stanley Kubrick Collection, 1987-1992 tosses in no exclusive extras, but its list price of $83.96 is about 16 percent off of the separate cost of all five movies. As such, it would be a nice bargain for anyone who wants all of the different films.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4074 Stars Number of Votes: 54
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