Review: Crisis in Six Scenes

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The Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar licks over the patented Woody Allen font is a bit jarring change from his typical jazz music. Then we cut to protest footage about the 60’s for context in the subsequent scenes. It also explains why Sidney J. Munsinger’s (Allen) magazine clipping of James Dean is not ensconced in an antiquated Henny Youngman pop culture reference. Weirdly, Allen writes himself to be verbally abused by the barber as not J.D. Salinger. Rather than being endearingly self-deprecating, it’s parsimonious.

Is it just me or does Elaine May sound as if she had a stroke or bells palsy? It’s bewildering why she would want to sound so slurry. Then again her character’s hand is permanently affixed to a wine glass. It extinguishes a lot of the yuk-yuks. Just because May rattles off a few Vietnam articles doesn’t mean that he is weaving a historical tapestry behind his comedy. On the positive side, Allen can still elicit neurotic chuckles from anhedonia (“You can add years to life if you avoid anything pleasurable”).

The idea of a hippie, fugitive subversive being the houseguest of a passive neo-conservative is engineered for maximum high jinx. Allen is not accustomed to the cliffhangers that television usually end their episodes with. Instead Allen and May are laying in bed with an intruder nearby and the scene abruptly cuts to black. I honestly enjoyed the lack of overt foreshadowing.

The second episode dovetails into the funniest shtick of the whole series with Allen muttering under his breath about ransacked emeralds for Lennie Dale (Miley Cyrus). The stuttering Woody is a pristine comic foil next to Cyrus. It is mischievously funny when Allen forbids Lennie from “using [our] fluids” for a bath. Woody’s incisive point about how he doesn’t vote because “the blacks get screwed, the rich get richer and the wars never end” sounds like his arrow in his quiver is aimed at history repeating itself.

Just as the episode is firing on all cylinders, Cyrus sleepwalks into a misunderstanding with police officers and her performance is unconvincingly broad. Luckily the MVP is Allen who is more animated and caffeinated than most 80-year-old’s. By the third episode, May is slacking in her role and one wishes she would magically switch places with Diane Keaton who was a wry partner for Allen from the late 70’s to the early 90’s.

Is Miley meant to be a female Abby Hoffman? Maybe Woody has gotten the memo but conscious objector are not radical anymore. Cyrus’s SJW is harshly one-note at times. However, in his sharpest comedy in ages, Allen casts us back to a time when manifold activist-terrorism jokes weren’t topical firestorms, they were just slightly edgy potshots.

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Maybe I’m in the vocal minority but Allen is a wisecracking riot during a paranoid spell after a pitch meeting when he inspects Mel’s (Bobby Slayton) taco for wireless microphones. Without pregnant pauses and an emphasis on screwball dialogue and navel-gazing ethos (quotes from Frantz Fanon), contemporary audiences will chagrin at this affair for the Neil Simon sect.

Allen’s reticence towards Amazon Studios’ monetary proposition doesn’t encroach on the quality. Like much of his output, Allen can either strike a chord or be waterlogged with ankle weights (the book club sessions about Mao are gossipy and stultifying). Crisis in Six Scenes is a lopsided configuration of attributes (Allen’s hyperactive tics (his hysterically panic-stricken pantomime of dialing in a phone booth) and a mise-en-scene composition) and fundamental letdowns (May’s mushy-denture disorientation with one-liners and Allen’s fixation on backwards nostalgia and Freudian psychoanalysis as a crutch for shallow pop psychiatry).

Rating: 2.75 out of 5 

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