Case Number 22285
Mill Creek Entertainment // 1991 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // September 14th, 2011
Judge Mike Rubino bought the Saab for the phone.
“How many 16th anniversaries does a person have in a lifetime? Oneâ€¦maybe two.”â€”Nick Fifer
Woody Allen and Bette Midler put on their shoulder-padded jackets and high-waisted pants, bust out their enormous car phones and pagers, and wade through a sea of early ’90s zaniness in the forgotten romantic comedy Scenes from a Mall.
Facts of the Case
Nick (Woody Allen, Hollywood Ending) is a retired tennis pro who is ready to celebrate his 16thâ€”no, wait, 17thâ€”anniversary with his wife Deborah (Bette Midler, The Rose), a best-selling marriage therapist. The two of spend the day Christmas shopping in a packed Los Angeles shopping mall, where they proceed to fight, divorce, make up, and fight all over again.
Scenes from a Mall tries so hard to be a “Woody Allen movie.” It opens with some big band jazz. One of the main characters is related to the profession of psychology. There’s cheating, lying, and marital strife. Oh, and Woody Allen’s in it, playing a character he has no right to play (a former tennis pro with a tiny ponytail). Yet, despite all of these sure-fire ingredients, which have been combined plenty of times to great success by the auteur himself, they don’t make a “Woody Allen movie.” Without his deft touch, we’re stuck with a generic Christmas comedy that isn’t particularly funny.
Like Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (never a good way to start a paragraph), Scenes from a Mall is a series of sketches and incidents all within the confines of a massive shopping center. Nick and Deborah use their anniversary as a chance to work through their secret transgressions; deciding to do so while in the middle of a Christmas shopping spree at an L.A. mall results in an exhausting march through floors of consumers, carolers, and street performers. It’s not only exhausting for Allen and Midler, but for the viewer as well.
To be clear, Bette Midler or Woody Allen aren’t, at any point, the problem with Scenes from a Mall. These two have excellent chemistry. For one, Midler is closer in age to Allen than most of his romantic interests. Her smooth, melodramatic sense of humor is also a great in juxtaposition to Allen’s skittishness. When the two of them are just firing back and forth at one another, it feels natural and comfortingâ€”pros at the top of their kvetching games. They just aren’t given much to work with.
Conflict is interesting; it fuels interesting comedy. But too much unnecessary conflict waters down the important stuff and dulls everything. Allen and Midler are comedic actors perfectly capable of carrying a 90-minute movie on their shoulders, shooting off one-liners and jabs with little else to work with. Screenwriters Roger Simon and Paul Mazursky (who also directed) don’t seem confident in letting them do that. Instead, mimes, mariachi bands, carolers, rappers, and a giant surfboard serve as overkill toppings on an already competent pizza. Nick and Deborah spend most of the film fighting and reconciling; it feels oddly realistic for such a bombastic couple. The fact that they are thrust into more conflict by having a mime (Bill Irwin, Hot Shots!) chase them the entire movie follows a kitchen-sink mentality that doesn’t sit well.
Scenes from a Mall is a comedy that will appeal to fans of calamityâ€”mindless, stereotypical calamity. It’s not intelligent or witty enough to really work as a Woody Allen or Bette Midler movie. It’s not spirited enough to be considered a holiday movie. It’s just a jumble of ingredients that never turns into a meal.
As far as this high-definition release is concerned, it’s an adequate transfer for a quick Blu-ray release. The picture is grainy and the colors are well representedâ€”it still retains that ’90s feel. The audio, however, is just standard Dolby 2.0 stereo, which sounds just fine for the type of film this is. So get ready for a totally underwhelming (not to mention supplement free) Blu-ray disc.
Scenes from a Mall isn’t particularly funny. Given the talent involved, and the overall premise, it certainly could have been; throwing a bunch of mime jokes, oversized props, and mariachi songs at a story only makes matters worse. That’s an unfortunate truth I hope we’ve all learned from.