I've never really liked the saying, "You're only as good as your last film." The fact that it disqualifies past great performances and films to solely determine all talent from one movie is, well, unfair. And, might I add, super lame. But it sprang to mine after I watched Woody Allen's latest, MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. The prolific filmmaker follows up last year's fantastic Blue Jasmine with a lackluster movie that's unfortunately not as enchanting as it sounds.
After taking us on a whimsical trip through the City of Light three years ago in Midnight in Paris, Allen brings us back to France on a more pertinent mission--to determine whether the sixth sense is actually real and, if not, dismantle the notion once and for all. Well, we watch Colin Firth do it anyway. The actor plays Stanley, a renowned 1920s English magician who is brought to France by an old friend and colleague, Howard (Simon McBurney), to disprove a popular psychic (Emma Stone). Why? Because Houdini-like Stanley is ironically not a believer in actual magic or telekinesis, and if anyone could prove Sophie (Stone) to be a hack, it's him.
Already not a very interesting premise right from its start. But, like many Allen films, it's not so much the premise that draws you to the film but how engaging its character is written--down to each quirk. That's what's missing here in this film: there's just nothing very special about any of these characters. In fact, there's nothing throughout most the film to keep you invested it. It's pedestrian to the point of being bland (and I hate that I've become one of those writers that use the word "pedestrian," but it's the best way to describe it). Almost as if he realizes that the film has to be more than about a magician trying to out-trick a trickster, Allen folds MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT into a predictable, cringe-worthy romance that develops between Stanley and Sophie. What makes it uncomfortable to watch is the fact that Firth and Stone have zero chemistry together, especially for a romance. Their age differences (28 years, to be exact) aside, Firth and Stone are two very different styles of actors, neither of whom are particularly suitable for the roles they're playing here. (Casting directors continue to place Stone in roles that fall way outside her range, only utilizing her "It" girl appeal and not her actual strengths; Firth is just such a deliberate actor that to play a character that's so frivolous is an odd fit for him).
What may most attract moviegoers is MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT's portrait, albeit a sloppy one, of a man so consumed by his own desire to be clever that it is love that plays the ultimate trick on him: making him see that not everything comes down to what does and doesn't make sense to him. But does he believe in magic? Is Allen suggesting that love is magic? Perhaps, but this is not a particularly refreshing story for fans of Allen's work or even film fans at all. Frankly, it goes stale after the first twenty minutes, after you've realized exactly where it's going and how it will get there. Which makes it a chore to watch. It's far too amateur, especially from someone like Allen who's been making films for almost fifty years.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT just seems more like notes on a scribble pad, not an actual film. Despite its decent cast (Marcia Gay Harden is in it for a moment, playing Sophie's stern mother, along with Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins, who's the film's true delight), charming score and cinematography, it just left me really hollow, scratching my head. Allen is better than this.
Rating: D+ (* out of *****)
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is in select theaters July 25th. Watch the trailer: