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Woody Allen may not come from space or tear through stomachs, but as the protagonist in Deconstructing Harry he may be the most vicious creature at the multiplex this winter.

It's often a mistake to read the lurid events of an artist's personal life into his work, but Deconstructing Harry fairly begs for such an interpretation. Towards the end, Harry, the novelist played by Allen, tells a group of professors that in his next novel, he's going to stop pretending that his protagonist isn't him. It seems to be Allen's way of signaling to the audience that he's aware of how rawly autobiographical much of the film is, even though itís also fantastical and surreal. After all, Harry is inducted in the world of infidelity by an Asian prostitute tricked out in campy, Chinoserie drag in a scene that can't help but reference the Mia Farrow/Soon Yi debacle. Allen's character in Deconstructing Harry gets in trouble with everyone who's close to him because he can't stop using them as characters in his books. "You take everyone's suffering and turn it into gold," spits Judy Davis, who plays one of Harry's mistresses and the sister of one of his wives.

While the plot and much of the massive ensemble cast is familiar, the tone is a huge departure from the jazz-tinged sympathy that Allen usually accords his characters. In Deconstructing Harry, most everyone makes the leap from neurotic to psychotic, and the language is raw and uncharacteristically vulgar. Itís as if all the sexual rage and loss that followed Allen's scandal has exploded Geyser-like after the repression of making the preternaturally cheerful musical Everyone Says I Love You. Deconstructing Harry pulses with several years worth of hatred and bile, but while itís Allen's most scathing film, itís also one of his funniest.

The most hysterical moments deal with Allen's conflicted Judaism. There's a brilliant scene with a Star Wars themed bar mitzvah, and a painfully funny fight between Harry, his newly religious sister and her Israeli husband (played with deadpan self-righteousness by Eric Bogosian.) To Bogosianís challenge, "Do you care about the Holocaust?" Allen retorts, "Not only did we lose six million people, but records are made to be broken."

As usual, in Deconstructing Harry Allen places himself at the center of a universe of crazy, beautiful women. Only here, each also has an alter-ego in Allen's fictional world, so that it becomes increasingly difficult to sort out the fantasy from Harry's crumbling reality. Among the women, real and imagined, that Allen abuses are Kirstie Alley, Judy Davis, Amy Irving, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Demi Moore and Elisabeth Shue. There are so many places where the characters overlap and so many flights of fantasy that it becomes increasingly difficult to sort out the multifarious strands of the plot, but it doesn't really matter. As in Mighty Aphrodite, the only really sane women in the whole mess is a hooker with a heart of gold, played by Hazelle Goodman. But Allen's misogyny is so naked here its almost a critique of itself, and at the end, Harry ends up lost and alone, with nothing to soothe him but his characters and his fans.

rated r
106 minutes