magic in the moonlightWhy do I do it? Every year or so Woody Allen releases a new movie, and every year or so I go hoping it’ll be better than the previous one, and every year it’s not. To say that Allen repeats himself is to say that Louboutin shoes have red soles. But at least Christian builds on his familiar foundation with interesting uppers. Woody just assembles the usual from his shopworn toolbox of wealthy white protagonists with time on their hands and the desire to spend it talking. The one difference is that now that he’s got a yen for travel outside Manhattan, his carbon copies play out in foreign luxury playgrounds. So here we find his characters in the south of France. The setup is promising: a famous magician and debunker of the “spiritual world” (Colin Firth) is asked to expose a young woman (Emma Stone, charming) whose clairvoyance dazzles all who experience it. But as it plays out, the film falls prey to Allen’s worst shortcoming: his penchant for “philosophical” debate, which grows increasingly declarative and non-conversational, even as we roll our eyes at issues being examined at the level of a college dorm all-nighter. I’ve never really “gotten” Firth; like Clive Owen, the actor’s bland good looks and disengaged affect are bloodless on screen. Allen knows how to work with his cinematographers to get the visual effects he wants; here, the French Riviera is a sun-dappled Eden. But for someone with usually sure comic timing, he throws away punch lines or shoots them from a distance that loses their punch. And his musical choices are also wobbly: while limning Firth’s stage career at the beginning showing his various magic tricks, it makes sense to use warhorse classical pieces that would be a logical choice for performers of the day. But later on, to highlight Firth’s agitated state of mind, Allen picks one of the tiredest chestnuts of all: the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th. Even for Woody, that’s a middlebrow mistake. Later still, there is underscoring that would not be out of place in a Laurel and Hardy movie. Plus, by the end, you’ll never want to hear “You Do Something To Me” again. Not since SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME has a song been so overused. — Jeff Schultz


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