Magical in theme but not effect, Woody Allen’s new movie has nothing up its sleeve or on its vaguely engaged mind.
Magic in the Moonlight is Allen half-baked and at half-speed. He has this masochistic ritual where he seems to deliberately disengage from his dwindling audience immediately after connecting with it, as he surely did last year with Blue Jasmine. That film went on to win Cate Blanchett the Best Actress prize at the most recent Academy Awards, while also garnering Allen a screenwriting nomination.
Expect no such laurels for this latest Allen emission, which is more zom-com than rom-com.
Set in 1928 on the French Riviera, Magicin the Moonlight demonstrates little more than how the characters played by Colin Firth, 53, and Emma Stone, 25, really aren’t meant for each other, no matter what the tepid screenplay telegraphs from the get-go.
Firth is misanthropic English magician Stanley Crawford, best known under his stage disguise as Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo, first glimpsed during a Berlin performance demonstrating his exceptional craft.
Stone is bubbly American clairvoyant Sophie, who has lately been making jaws drop with her mindreading prowess. She has mightily impressed Stanley’s old friend Howard (Simon McBurney), a fellow magician, who is determined to have her skills verified by Stanley — or have her unmasked as a fraud.
Stanley delights in pulling the rug out from scam artists: “I’m a rational man who believes in a rational world.”
It takes no persuasion at all to get him to cancel a planned holiday to the Galapagos Islands with his fiancée and to instead travel to the Côte d’Azur villa of wealthy American widow Grace (Jacki Weaver), where Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are staying.
Without even trying, Sophie has bewitched Grace’s doofus son Brice (Hamish Linklater), who composes sappy odes to her on the ukulele and begs her to marry him. But Sophie’s female charms seem lost on Stanley, who is boorish to everyone except his beloved aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), who offers wise counsel Stanley may be too stubborn to heed.
Vanessa just happens to live in the area, one of many contrivances in a film that is rife with them. Allen has used magic and conjuring in many of his films, just as he has worked references to Freud, Nietzsche and “Is there a God?” into his screenplays.
He seems to have written Magic in the Moonlight on autopilot, perhaps while sleepwalking. But even the most dextrose prose would be unable to overcome the unhappy pairing of Colin Firth and Emma Stone, who make a dead battery seem sparky in comparison.
If all else fails, just stare at the lovely visuals of the Côte d’Azur, captured by cinematographer Darius Khondji with a mindfulness far greater than Woody Allen has been able to muster, this time out.