Some movie critics must secretly hope that Woody Allen dies soon—if not two decades ago—to spare us any more of his Continental nostalgia trips. He got lucky with Midnight in Paris, but he’s been at it too long. Let him retire to the Riviera, not make another movie there.
Set in the interwar period in the South of France, Magic in the Moonlight isn’t Allen’s worst picture (my vote: The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), but it’s close. Colin Firth plays a cynical magician, who keeps repeating Allen’s dull ideas over and over and fucking over again. Emma Stone, in her first career misstep (Allen’s fault, not hers), plays a shyster mentalist seeking to dupe a rich family out of its fortune (chiefly by marrying its gullible, ukulele-playing son, Hamish Linklater). The recreations of this posh ’20s milieu seem curiously literal, like magazine spreads, so soon after seeing Wes Anderson’s smartly inflected period detail in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which both revered and ridiculed the past.
Allen famously started in showbiz as a magician, then transitioned to writing jokes as a teen prodigy in the ’50s. Brooklyn and Broadway are where his heart resides. Magic in the Moonlight is more like his re-rendering of a thin prewar British stage comedy he saw at a matinee during his youth, now peppered with references to Nietzsche and atheism. It’s dated, then updated, which only seems to date it the more.
Period aside, no one wants to see Firth, 53, and Stone, 25, as a couple. The math doesn’t work. It’s icky. Yet no one is in a position to tell Allen this; and every European mayor seems willing to extend him tax credits for his productions because of the local jobs and tourist bounce they supposedly provide. No less than Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise, albeit on a smaller scale, Allen has figured out how to reliably profit from making mediocre movies annually. His idol, Ingmar Bergman, retired at 86. So that means we have only seven more years and movies to expect from Allen? I wish him the best of health. But that pool chair—with Mediterranean views, no less—looks awfully comfortable right now. Opens Fri., Aug. 8 at Guild 45th, Pacific Place, and Lincoln Square. Rated PG-13. 98 minutes.