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MOVIE REVIEW : UCI Slips in Allen's 'Bananas' : Although it is ending with a fairly common work, the 'Inside Outsiders' series has met the challenge to diversify.

March 19, 1993|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — UC Irvine's intriguing "Inside Outsiders" film series, which has offered an array from the lurid "Peeping Tom" to the muckraking "Titicut Follies" to the pro-labor classic "Salt of the Earth," winds up with a grin tonight.

Woody Allen's "Bananas" (1971), screening at 7 and 9, well may be the series' most mainstream offering. The second picture directed by Allen (who co-wrote it with Mickey Rose), it fits snugly into his early, inconsistent period, when he was figuring out how to meld his comic and cinematic styles.

This melding isn't always smooth; many scenes seem unresolved, like a stand-up routine that hasn't been planned out all the way. Allen fumbles away our attention more than a few times during this rambling gag about a neurotic New Yorker (what else?) who reluctantly becomes the Castro-like president of a small Latin American country.

The sophistication and focus that would emerge in "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan" are nowhere to be seen in "Bananas." The editing is choppy, the lighting almost an afterthought, and Allen's takes on sex, politics and the New York way of life are scattershot musings that lean heavily toward slapstick.

But it is Woody Allen, so expect laughs. Even mediocre Woody is still pretty good, and several set pieces come off really well. The opening and closing sequences, when Howard Cosell mocks his own gassy style as he treats both a political assassination and Woody's wedding night as sporting events, are right-on parodies of American television. And Allen adds a perfectly improbable touch by having veteran ring announcer Don Dunphy set up Cosell's spiel.

*

Even though it is ending with a fairly prosaic work, the "Inside Outsiders" series has been anything but dull. Criticized in the past for taking a tame approach to scheduling, the UCI Film Society (made up mostly of students) has been more aggressive recently, and this latest series has been especially memorable for its diversity.

There were duds (like Richard Linklater's "Slacker") and predictable choices (like Philippe De Broca's "King of Hearts"), but the surprises came far more often, and the society met its obligation to unearth unusual films that rarely find their way to the big screen.

Besides "Salt of the Earth," "Peeping Tom" and "Titicut Follies" (which had been banned from public viewing until 1991), the series included Fred Schepisi's ground-breaking Australian movie "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith," Orson Welles' startling adaptation of Kafka's "The Trial" and the very rarely screened "Animal Farm," the first full-length animated feature to come out of Britain.

* UC Irvine's "Inside Outsiders" film series concludes tonight with Woody Allen's "Bananas," being shown at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Student Center in the Crystal Cove Auditorium on campus. $2 and $4. (714) 856-6379.

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