In "Magic in the Moonlight," an amusing trifle and sugary truffle of a film,
The movie stars
"Magic's" goal is to make a believer out of a nonbeliever and to bring the insufferably smug Stanley down a peg or two. The tension hangs on whether or not it can. What is easiest to believe is that there is a good deal of Allen embedded in Stanley's sanctimonious skepticism and perhaps even more of the filmmaker's hope that the irrepressible optimism of Sophie Baker (Stone) is right.
Despite its mucking around in mortality, "Magic" is by no means dark — how could it be, between the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean hugging the Cote d'Azur and Stone's incandescent blue eyes? Nothing like the bitterly and beautifully imploding life Allen dissected so unsparingly in last year's
In fact, "Magic" at times seems more an unrealized idea than a fully formed movie. Perhaps, chalk it up to one of those off years for a filmmaker who keeps himself on a production line pace — 49 pictures in 48 years and another in production now.
"Magic" begins on a Berlin stage in front of a packed house with the high theatrics of Wei Ling Soo — flowing red changshan, head-shaved except for a long black pigtail, kohl-slanted eyes — executing his famous disappearing elephant trick.
As he heads to his dressing room hurling insults like knives about the ineptitude of the stage manager, he is met by a longtime friend and colleague in the magic trade, Howard Burkan (
Matriarch Grace (Jacki Weaver) is newly widowed, her son Brice (
Won't Stanley please help out these deluded folks? As Burkan suspects, it's an offer that Stanley's seriously inflated ego can't refuse.
And so begins a very lovely but loosely imagined lark.
The summery scene Allen's created is luminous, shimmering in its period detail, from the roadster Firth motors along in to the vintage wear costume designer Sonia Grande searched the world for. Director of photography
The actress, of course, brings her own special glow. There is true movie-star quality in every part she plays, no matter how slight the role — the slightness of Sophie proves it.
Firth is a good sparring partner, the actor never more likably dislikable. To Stanley, he brings all the tartness of his very proper barrister in "Bridget Jones's Diary," then adds a big dollop of the arrogance of his dashing, dismissive Mr. Darcy from the British miniseries "Pride and Prejudice."
But Darcy was nearly two decades ago, and "Bridget Jones" is edging toward 14. The heartthrob factor that made Firth so irresistible in those earlier works is harder to conjure up now, particularly when Sophie's such a sweet young thing. At least the flirting is all rather chaste and second chair. The medium is the message here.
That Sophie finds Stanley intriguing, however, is easy to buy. He's worldly, well-educated and impossible in a way that often interests smart younger women. While Sophie roils Stanley's emotions, his Aunt Vanessa is responsible for keeping his mind in a churn. A delightful Eileen Atkins is excellent at it. She lives in her own chateau not far from the Catledges, she loves Stanley and is soon enchanted by Sophie.
Between Aunt Vanessa's subtle prodding at rational thinking and Sophie's increasingly impressive, un-debunkable "impressions," the ones that tell a person something about their life that she could not have known, a lot is proffered about belief — in love as well as an existence beyond this mortal realm.
As to Allen, the filmmaker has done froth far better and funnier.
'Magic in the Moonlight'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes