Spin-Dried

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Alice Directed and Written by Woody Allen

Alice (Mia Farrow) is a lady who lunches. She also gets her hair done a lot and has a chronic backache and a personal trainer to help her deal with it. That still leaves plenty of time left over for sad reflections on how empty her life is, despite nice children and a notably rich, impatient husband (William Hurt). There is also, of course, time for dithery-dreamy thoughts about having an affair with Joe (Joe Mantegna), a saxophonist who is sensitive because he's a musician and sexy because he is just the right couple of notches lower than she is in the Manhattan class structure.

What Alice obviously needs is a dose of magic realism strong enough to spin- dry her brain. And writer-director Woody Allen is just the man to administer it to her, with a little help from Keye Luke. Yes, that Keye Luke: Charlie Chan's sometime No. 1 Son. Now grown old and marvelously cranky, he is also perhaps just a shade crooked as Dr. Yang, an acupuncturist-herbalist who runs an opium den on the side. His potions soon have Alice flying.

Literally, for Alice takes off on the arm of a ghost (Alec Baldwin) who happens to be her long-lost love. Other mysterious packets that the good doctor presses upon Alice grant her release from her inhibitions, the power to render herself invisible and even a muse (a hilarious Bernadette Peters) to help her realize her long-thwarted literary ambitions. Better still, this medicine is what Allen has needed to refresh his approach to one of his preoccupying themes, upper-middle-class adultery, a topic that has rendered him uncommonly owlish of late.

Farrow is, of course, wonderful in the kind of role Allen has helped her make uniquely her own: an essentially sober woman sorely afflicted by visions. One does feel a little sorry for the several good actors (Blythe Danner, Gwen Verdon, Cybill Shepherd) whose roles do not permit them to walk through walls or otherwise join in the fun. And it must be said that Alice comes to a conclusion a little too conventionally decent minded. But it is still a terrific trip — somehow more freewheeling in spirit than other Allen fantasies — and one that happily returns him to his best comic territory.