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Woody Allen
Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Elizabeth Shue, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Hazelle Goodman, Eric Lloyd, Billy Crystal, Richard Benjamin, Demi Moore, Julie Louis-Dreyfus, Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams
Woody Allen

Harry Block wrote a bestseller about his best friends. Now, his best friends are about to become his worst enemies.
Box Office:
Budget $20 million. Opening weekend $356,476 on 10 screens. Domestic gross $10.569 million.
Rated R for strong language and some sexuality.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Digital Mono
French Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 5/26/1998

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Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Woody Allen: the bitter years. After the exceedingly public fallout over his split from Mia Farrow and his subsequent romance with - and 1997 marriage to - Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, Allen retreated into fantasy to a degree with flicks like 1993’s Bullets Over Broadway and 1996’s Everyone Says I Love You.

However, I guess once Woody finally tied the knot with Soon-Yi, he felt ready to expel all his venom. As such, he produced two of his nastiest flicks back to back: 1997’s Deconstructing Harry and 1998’s Celebrity. The latter - which obviously will be the subject of its own review - really laid clear his thoughts about fame. Harry, on the other hand, dealt more with his feelings toward women and relationships, and it ain’t a pretty picture.

In Deconstructing we meet Harry Block (Allen), a successful writer who seems unable to sustain a lasting and satisfying relationship with a woman. He has three ex-wives, virtually all of whom loathe him, partly due to his proclivity to offer thinly-veiled tales of their lives in his books.

Harry now prefers prostitutes due to the simplicity of those interactions. Unfortunately, he suffers from writer’s block even as he’s about to receive an honor from his old college. This then involves an odd journey in which he travels with minor friend Richard (Bob Balaban), hooker Cookie (Hazelle Goodman), and son Hilly (Eric Lloyd) to the ceremony, all while Harry debates the mistakes of his life and frets over the impending marriage of one of his past loves named Fay (Elisabeth Shue).

Harry features an intentionally choppy and scattered tone. It flits between fictionalized versions of Harry’s life - which use totally different actors - and the real thing, and it also cuts off lines in mid-sentence much of the time. Allen went with a surreal tone in which the artificial elements become elevated.

It’s an interesting idea, but I think the film fails as a whole. At its heart, it has some value, as Harry examines his life and his choices, but the flick includes far too many cutesy elements. Many of these come from the illustrations of Harry’s writing, like when we see Mel (Robin Williams), a character who literally goes out of focus.

The movie also takes some long and fairly pointless detours, such as the tale of Max Pincus (Hy Anzell), an alleged wife-killing cannibal. This segment detracts from the main focus of the film for far too much time. None of the other substories veer off as badly as this one, but they occur frequently enough to become a distraction.

Though intended to add realism to the film, another element also causes distractions. Harry includes more profanity than any other Allen film. Actually, it may have more nasty language than all the others combined! It’s disconcerting to hear Allen say “fuck” with such frequency, and it’s even odder to listen to him refer to women as “cunts”.

That factor accentuates the main weakness of Harry: its rampant misogyny. Women enjoy few positive portrayals here as Allen vents his spleen toward the so-called fairer sex. Granted, he levels some barbs at himself as well, but his feelings remain clear.

Harry tosses a huge roster of stars at us, perhaps to distract us from the lack of sense found in the story itself. Allen did this a lot during the Nineties; Everyone Says I Love You also includes an enormous batch of notables. Is it a coincidence these are two of his worst films? Probably not; Allen apparently uses quantity to distract from the poor quality of his work.

Overall, Deconstructing Harry feels like a forced and crude piece of work. Allen doesn’t seem to know what he wants to communicate with this piece, so only his bitterness emerges. The film fits in poorly with the rest of his oeuvre, as it seems scattered and mean-spirited as a whole.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C / Bonus D-

Deconstructing Harry appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen edition was reviewed for this article. Though not without concerns, overall the DVD offered a fairly solid picture.

Sharpness consistently seemed positive. Virtually no examples of softness appeared, as the image remained crisp and well defined at all times. Some light shimmering occurred at times, and I also saw modest edge enhancement on occasion. Print flaws were generally modest, but a few instances of defects appeared. Moderate grain cropped up through parts of the film, and I noted occasional examples of grit, speckles, a scratch and a blotch or two.

Colors looked terrific across the board. The hues displayed fine accuracy and they seemed bright and vivid at all times. Exteriors seemed particularly excellent, as they displayed wonderfully warm and rich colors. Black levels came across as deep and dense, and shadow detail usually appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. The only exceptions came during interior shots of Cookie; the filmmakers apparently didn’t compensate for her dark skin, so she got a little lost in the mix. Nonetheless, much of Deconstructing Harry presented a fabulous image; only a moderate roster of flaws lowered my grade to “B”-level.

As with virtually every other Woody Allen flick, Deconstructing Harry offered only a monaural soundtrack. The mix seemed typical and greatly resembled the audio for many other Allen movies. Dialogue was consistently intelligible and reasonably natural, and I heard no concerns related to edginess. Effects came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, and they occasionally showed decent low-end response. Music fell into the same category, as the score was fairly bright with reasonable fidelity; bass response stayed decent but unexceptional. Ultimately, the soundtrack got the job done, but it did so with little flair.

Allen apparently dislikes supplements, which is why none of his DVDs include substantial extras. Oddly, Harry omits any trailers, but we do find extensive cast biographies. We get listings for - takes deep breath - Allen, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Hazelle Goodman, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Julie Kavner, Eric Lloyd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, and Robin Williams. All of these offer short but decent discussions of the actors’ careers, with the exception of Allen; his area only provides a filmography.

Deconstructing Harry won’t be regarded as the worst film made by Woody Allen in his down period that occurred during the Nineties, but it may be the crassest feature on his résumé. The movie seems scattered and disjointed and never really goes anywhere. The DVD offers moderately flawed but generally solid picture with acceptable mono sound and almost no extras. This one should be left for the diehard Allen fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.96 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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