The title Whatever Works refers to a notion that runs through many of Woody Allen's comedies, that as long as you're not hurting anyone, the pursuit of happiness should take place on a wide-open field.

The title Whatever Works refers to a notion that runs through many of Woody Allen's comedies, that as long as you're not hurting anyone, the pursuit of happiness should take place on a wide-open field.

Unfortunately, that's not all that's familiar in Allen's latest. After the sunny break of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the filmmaker returns to New York and dredges up some of the same bigotry and borderline misogyny that has afflicted most of his later works.

He seems to be aiming for absurdity with his tale of a snotty Jewish intellectual (Larry David) who finds a cute Louisiana cracker (Evan Rachel Wood) on his doorstep and becomes her romantic partner and misanthropic Henry Higgins, but ends up with something dusty and hermetic.

The script has lines that recall Allen at his funniest, but his Southern characters suggest that Allen's never gone further south than Brooklyn. More damaging is the casting of David in the leading role. Like many before him, David becomes Allen's alter ego, but there's no modulation to his performance. It works on one level: totally abrasive.