Written by Bill Wilson
Directed by Alfonso Arau
Every now and then I come across a movie that looks so absurd, I just know it has to be funny. When I read the plot outline for Alfonso Arau’s Picking Up the Pieces, I thought I had found such a movie.
Woody Allen is Tex, a New York butcher who’s married to Candy (portrayed by Sharon Stone), a woman who testified against the mob. To escape possible death, he takes her off to Texas. In addition to being a butcher, he and Candy do a magic act. One night it goes horribly wrong… or does it? When he finds out she hasn’t been faithful, he manages to stage a convincing accident during their magic act. He buries her body just outside the little town of El Nino, New Mexico.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) he loses a hand along the way. When a blind woman stumbles across it, she miraculously regains her sight and decides it must be the hand of the Virgin Mary. Father Jerome (David Schwimmer), who’s main passion seems not to be God but the local prostitute (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), puts the hand on display. More miracles occur: a woman is cured of her palsy, a teen is cured of acne, and a man grows new legs.
This creates quite a stir, and the Vatican dispatches two priests and a nun (Elliott Gould, Andy Dick, Fran Drescher) to check out if it’s a miracle or a hoax.
The premise sounded like it would make a great comedy filled with mishaps and mismatches. Along the way, however, something go horribly wrong and nothing ever quite comes together.
The major problem I saw with Picking Up the Pieces is it tried too hard for the laughs. Having Kiefer Sutherland as Bobo, a Texas Trooper who’s been involved with Candy driving around in a car marked Texas State Copper is just ridiculous. There are many such moments in the film. Instead of being humorous, it just comes off as lame.
Parts of the story don’t work. You have a town where miracles are supposedly occurring, and yet at the same time people are lining up to fleece people coming looking for their own miracles. The entire town seems like something out of Sodom and Gomorrah with prostitutes are lined right outside the church where this hand – supposedly of the Virgin Mary (but we know the truth) is on display. There’s a point where absurd crosses over into ridiculous and Arau goes way beyond that point in this film.
The casting is horrible as well. Sharon Stone is the only bright spot and after the first five minutes, she’s not seen again for most of the film. David Schwimmer usually seems to play the same character in each role, and this one is no exception. This part here is like Ross Geller gets an acting job as a priest. Kiefer Sutherland adds nothing in the role as Bobo. Woody Allen is a total miss in a part that also could have been one of life’s little ironies. He’s got more chemistry and believability when he’s interacting with the dog than he has with anyone else in the film.
The cast reads like a who’s who at times and there were plenty of familiar faces in addition to the ones I mentioned. The problem is that no one stands out. Every performance is mediocre; more like they are enamored of having on their acting resume that they were in “a Woody Allen” film.
There also doesn’t seem to be a point to the film. Miracles occur – the man grows legs, the blind woman sees, a flat-chested, woman grows huge boobs, etc. Yet the miracles seem to be viewed with an eye of contempt. This tone and the point Arau is trying to make with them is unclear and never really resolved. The only real story that gets resolved is the priest and prostitute love story, and where’s the real surprise there? The priest is boffing a prostitute and the whole town knows about it and doesn’t seem to care. They still bring their babies to him for baptisms. The prostitute makes the priest jealous – duh. She’s a prostitute. I don’t think she’s been “faithful” to him all along. Suddenly, he’s questioning everything.
The laughs are cheap and often not even that funny. How many times when we see the hand on display in the church “giving the finger” am I supposed to think it’s funny? It wasn’t even really funny the first time, never mind the fiftieth. I’ve watched “black humor” films, and this isn’t one of them. If that’s what it is trying to be, then it isn’t done well. It’s just plain stupid and not worth the price of the disc it’s been burned on.
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