When considering that Woody Allen cranks out about a film a year, and has done so for years, it's the law of averages that not every one is going to be a winner.
One of the stranger films in his canon is 1991's SHADOWS AND FOG. Taking place in an unnamed town seemingly always shrouded in fog, Allen plays bookkeeper Kleinman, more reputed for his cowardice than his accounting skills. Kleinman is dragged from his bed in the middle of the night to be part of a vigilante group stalking a brutal killer.
In one of the film's best running jokes, Allen is never told what his role in the group is, no matter how many times he asks what he is supposed to do.
As more vigilante groups emerge, they all battle and ask him what group he is with and all accuse him of being incompetent. Allen responds "I don't know enough to be incompetent!". It's a laugh out loud line and there are plenty of those sprinkled through this odd little movie.
Seemingly every part down to the smallest role is filled with movie stars, including John Malkovich and Mia Farrow as circus performers visiting the town and John Cusack as a college student visiting a brothel run by Lily Tomlin and staffed by Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster.
William H Macy, Madonna, Donald Pleasance and many more pop up through the movie as it weaves a strange tale on these foggy streets.
When Kleinman is suspected of being the killer, he escapes to the home of his ex-fiance that he left at the alter and Julie Kavner and Allen perfectly execute a three minute comic sequence. It's the movie's best scene, concluding with the Allen line "It's nice to see you aren't bitter", one of the all time great throwaway lines.
There are deeper messages here of letting your true self emerge, paranoia and justice, but like the town, they are a bit too foggy to see clearly.
Shadows and Fog is a bit too much smoke and mirrors to be one of Allen's best. We'll give it a murky C.