Watching all of Woody Allen's films in order: Company Man (2000)

Then First time, this time, only time. See below.

Now About the longest eighty minutes of my life – and that includes the time I was stuck at Manchester Piccadilly at five in the morning waiting for the first train back to Liverpool with nothing to read and no one about – Company Man by any measure is a horrible comedy, unfunny, often offensive so. The story of Douglas McGrath’s Alan Quimp, a school English teacher with a grammar fetish who “lucks” himself into the Cuban wing of the CIA and causes the Bay of Pigs, everything you need to know about the sensibilities of the film makers can be found in a single sentence on its wikipedia page: “Bill Murray had a cameo appearance in the film, but his appearance was cut.”

Enjoying a 15% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the few positive reviews may have been written in the kind of LSD haze that McGrath presents us with in one of the film’s low points. Flatly shot on economical sets that barely explain the film’s $16 million price-tag and poorly edited, it seems to be attempting to resurrect early Woody Allen, specifically Bananas, but lacks Woody’s pacing and timing, largely falling back on reverse reveals in which a character says that something won’t be happening and in the next scene it is revealed that it has. A running gag of Alan incessantly correcting the grammar of his colleagues is so irritating at one point I was actively swearing at the screen in desperation for it to stop.

Most of the actors are trying their best with the meagre material but just sometimes you can see a flicker of fear in the eyes of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Leary and John Turturro suggesting they’re wondering how they got into it and aren’t sure what they’re supposed to be doing. When Alan Cumming appeared, I shouted “Not you too Alan!” like I’d just heard he’d been shot down in a war zone. For much of the duration I was trying to work out (a) where I’d seen writer/director/actor Douglas McGrath before and (b) how he’d amassed this cast for this failure, even to the point of asking Anthony LaPaglia to don a beard and greens to play Fidel Castro (and must have used only Hitchcock’s Topaz for research so broad is his characterisation).

Quick glance at the imdb and McGrath’s revealed to be Woody’s co-writer on Bullets Over Broadway with small roles in Celebrity, Bullets, Small Time Crooks and Hollywood Ending. He’d already directed the Emma adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘96 and would go from Company Man to Nicholas Nickelby before redeeming himself with Infamous, the Truman Capote film that wasn’t Capote. I’ve scrabbled about for an interview, some indication of what might have gone wrong here but all I can find is review after interview listing its failures; Roger Ebert attended twice, bless him, just to see if the audience reaction changed. It didn’t. Still silent. Salon says it’s like a life sentence. They’re right. I ended up tidying my tiny blu-ray collection halfway through.

McGrath might have thought himself Woody’s successor and though you could imagine him being an able performer given the right material and director – in a Wes Anderson film perhaps – he’s just not enough of a presence to carry his own film. Perhaps that’s why he’s surrounded himself with so much star power; but all too often he looks like a YouTube editing wizard who’s inserted themselves into someone else’s movie. How else can we explain why the rest of the cast are called upon to simply react as he does his schtick. It’s not until you see an actor/writer/director giving themselves what they think are the best jokes that you realise how generous Woody is in portioning out the humour even in the films were he’s supposed to be the main character.

The actor/writer/director’s previous credits explain Allen’s participation as the head of the Cuban branch of the CIA. Not that you could tell that from the box or the credits were his name is nowhere to be found. Did he see the finished product have his name taken off or did the film as a favour on the understanding that his appearance would be a surprise? Either way his sudden reveal is one of the few good moments as he lounges beneath a beret in the local drinking establishment explaining how he became stuck in what until that point is a backwater position within the organisation. Beyond that he’s largely wasted, uncomfortably handing out exposition and sending Alan out on missions to kill Castro, before the indignity of his final scene in which the virtuoso clarinettist has to mime using a saxophone.

In the absence of a trailer, here's Woody on Moby Dick, Cole Porter & Artistic Theft [via]:

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