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For Better or Worse Reviews

Woody Allen's movies inevitably make audience members cuddle up to the nebbish protagonist; FOR BETTER OR WORSE, on the other hand, makes the viewer willingly accept its central figure's self-pity. In the final anaylsis, the question remains: why should viewers subject themselves to this putz's unfunny melancholia? Michael Makeshift (Jason Alexander) is a loser, unlike his colorful petty criminal brother, Reggie (James Woods). Nerdy Michael can't get a life after being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend. He also is having trouble paying his overdue rent, demanded by his slob of a landlord (Robert Costanzo). Reggie pays Michael to baby-sit his new bride, Valerie (Lolita Davidovich), while he pursues a pie-in-the-sky heist of the credit union where his mom, Beverly (Beatrice Arthur), works. Michael tries to placate Valerie, who is unaware that her new husband is a thief. In the meantime, Reggie is outsmarted by potential partners Stone (Joe Mantegna) and Dwayne (Jay Mohr), who try to exclude him from his own scam by beating the necessary security codes out of him. Leaving Reggie tied up, the thug duo chases after Valerie, who unknowingly carries the info in her suitcase. On the lam with her, Michael tips off Valerie about Reggie's bad habits; the two become amorous. Not only do Stone and Dwayne acquire the codes, but they also force Reggie and Valerie to participate in the daylight robbery. The caper reaches a chaotic pitch when Michael decides to single-handedly thwart the theft, which turns into a hostage crisis. After Michael and Reggie's errant father picks this moment to return to reclaim his wife and family bliss, the bungling crooks discover their pistols aren't even loaded. Although the tense situation ends happily, Valerie frets that she's a jinx to the men she loves. After Reggie steps aside, Michael lovingly persuades her otherwise. As a second banana on TV's "Seinfeld," Alexander easily scored laughs as a neurotic underdog character. As a leading man here, he proves to be nothing more than a glorified character actor. To make matters worse, he chose to direct this excruciatingly unfunny vehicle; his comic pacing as a filmmaker is way off, and he consistently choses to milk each and every set-up. Although the curly wig he sports here may make him look like a shorter, roly-poly version of Albert Brooks, he has none of the latter's talent. Also unfortunately cast are sledgehammer talent Woods, not known for his feathery comic finesse, and the cloying Davidovich. It may be unfair to harp on bad acting when the script is so remarkably unencumbered by comic sparkle. As the film gasps from terminal cuteness, director Alexander eschews charm and sophistication for imbecilic slapstick. This corpse of a comedy is embalmed with a doo-wop soundtrack that sounds like the Manhattan Transfer scoring a specialty number for Captain Kangaroo's Dancing Bear. (Profanity, adult situations, violence.)