Movie review: Woody Allen’s latest film “Moonlight” hardly magical

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From the August 14, 2014 edition

Another year, another Woody Allen movie. It’s become an annual tradition to see where this year’s candidate will fit in the director’s catalog — and he’s released exactly one film a year for decades.

Allen is three years removed from his best film in a long time, 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” and has continued to stray from his usual New York setting for European locales. His latest film, “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t especially magical. This is Allen on cruise control, it seems, and, more dubiously, it’s a film that seems especially tone-deaf to the recent renewed attention to the director’s personal life.

The scene is 1928. Stanley (Colin Firth) is a famous illusionist who performs as an “Oriental” caricature with the stage name Wei Ling Soo. This was, apparently, not terribly racist to audiences in 1928. It will be to audiences in 2014.

Stanley is tasked with traveling to the French countryside to interact with Sophie (Emma Stone), a young American who claims to be a medium. Stanley is suspicious of her ties to the spirit world — and eventually smitten by her sharp banter.

“Moonlight” is surprisingly charmless given its lead actors. Allen saddles Stone and Firth with watered-down “His Girl Friday” banter. Stanley is so intent on outsmarting Sophie that he’s obviously going to fall in love with her. Her protestations are similarly thin. When she says, “Your reputation is all ego,” who is she really talking about?

As Columbus has recently had a very public conversation about “separating the art from the artist,” it bears mention this is especially hard to do in yet another movie where Allen has an older male lead charming a much younger female.

But there’s plenty to judge about the art, too, from a sudden storm as a lame plot device to the fact that “Moonlight” just isn’t very funny. File it in the middle of Allen’s recent work.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics