Picking Up The Pieces

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Picking Up The Pieces

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There's still a stigma attached to starring in a film released directly to video or cable, but skipping the cineplexes can also help careers by ensuring that awful movies slip beneath the pop-culture radar. After all, how much better off would John Travolta be if Battlefield Earth had received a discreet direct-to-video burial? It didn't seem to hurt the careers of Bruce Willis or Marlon Brando that Breakfast Of Champions and Free Money premiered at the local Blockbuster with minimal hype. Similarly, the cast of Picking Up The Pieces, an abysmal religious satire from Like Water For Chocolate director Alfonso Arau, should be grateful that it premiered quietly on pay cable, sparing them some of the worst reviews of their careers. Twenty-time Oscar nominee Woody Allen heads up the huge ensemble cast as a hapless butcher who kills his sexpot wife (Sharon Stone, channeling Jennifer Tilly), then dismembers and buries most of her body in a small town in New Mexico. But when a blind peasant trips on her hand and regains her sight, rumors spread that it's the hand of the Virgin Mary, much to the chagrin of David Schwimmer, a whoring priest who has lost his faith but not his knack for glib wisecracks. In the meantime, the hand continues to work its magic, not only curing the blind and legless, but also giving a dwarf a giant penis and a flat-chested teen enormous breasts—or, as she eloquently puts it, "big chi-chis, like the ones in the magazines." Elliott Gould, nun Fran Drescher, and monk Andy Dick are sent to New Mexico to investigate the "miracle" for the Vatican, but their real goal seems to be to chew what little scenery hasn't already been devoured by the rest of the subtlety-impaired cast. Picking Up The Pieces received criticism from the Catholic Church for its attacks on faith, but its worst sin is its horrifying unfunniness. An equal-opportunity offender, the film traffics in shrill, misanthropic scatological and religious humor that's been done countless times before, but seldom as badly or with such an overqualified cast. Allen emerges relatively unscathed, spending most of the film muttering third-rate Allen-isms to himself and his dog before recounting each of Pieces' easy ironies in a film-closing voiceover for those not paying attention. Arau and legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor) keep things looking good, but the director displays no feel for comedy. Pieces pays lip service to exploring the mysteries of faith, but the real mystery is what drew so many talented people to such a woefully ill-conceived project.

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