Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight' doesn't live up to its title

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight. (Courtesy)

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight. (Courtesy)

Rating

2 Stars2/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Even at 78, actor and filmmaker Woody Allen is absurdly prolific. Magic in the Moonlight, a romantic farce starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone, is the 15th feature film that Allen has written and directed since 2000 — and it ranks as number 46 in his career.

As an actor, Allen has also co-starred in six of his own New Millennium movies and even signed on for several other acting jobs for other directors, including playing a pimp in John Turturro’s vanity project, Fading Gigolo.

But being prolific does not always mean being perfect. Far from it. For every four or five or six Woody Allen movies, only one is good enough to be included on his all-time list. Sad to say, but Magic in the Moonlight is not one of them.

In fact, it should not even be a film. It should be a Broadway play ... and it should have been staged in 1934, not in 2014. The piece is that antiquated and out-of-touch, even by Allen’s arcane standards of modernity.

The problem is not the setting, which is Europe in 1928. In particular, after a prologue set in Berlin, Magic is set in the south of France in a community of English and American expatriates. So far so good. Beautiful scenery and interesting era. The bonus is that this is the time of hot jazz and catchy show tunes and pop standards from Tin Pan Alley. Allen loves this music and that era. So there is plenty of Bix Beiderbecke on the soundtrack, along with a smattering of Paul Whiteman and a touch of Cole Porter.

The problem is the story. Magic revolves around an insufferably self-important cynic (Firth). He is famous as an illusionist who masquerades as a Chinese man. His side specialty is debunking mystics and psychics who dabble in the occult. He is invited to France by a friend and fellow magician (Simon McBurney) to unmask a young American psychic (Stone). But our anti-social hero quickly finds himself in over his head.

This flimsy plot device allows Allen — mostly through his alter ego, Firth’s misanthrope — to expound on a few of his favourite things. Such as science and pragmatic thinking vs. superstition and blind faith. Love, however, is illogical. Magic in the Moonlight purports to be a romantic comedy. So the illusionist is plunged into a personal crisis.

Trouble is, all the banter is deadly boring. Firth’s performance is flat, as is he is spouting out Allen’s dialogue by rote, all the time without actually believing in the drama. As for Stone, she overacts like an ingenue debuting on Broadway in 1934.

The worst thing that can happen with any movie about ideas — whether it is a drama or a light-hearted romp like Magic in the Moonlight wants to be — is when everything sounds like a pedantic debate among drunken boors at three o’clock in the morning. There may be a flash of moonlight in the wee hours, but there is precious little magic.

Magic in the Moonlight opens in Toronto and Vancouver Aug. 1. It will expand across Canada throughout the summer.

Email Bruce


Photos