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» 'To Rome With Love' review: Woody's latest is second-class

by Stephen Whitty, published on Friday, June 22, 2012 - 6:00 AM

A (miscast) Ellen Page complicates Jesse Eisenberg's life in To Rome With LoveMaybe it’s time Woody Allen came home.

London brought one excellent film (“Match Point”), one decent one (“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger”) and one awful flop (“Scoop”). Spain contributed the strongly dramatic “Vicky Christina Barcelona”; France offered up the slightly delightful “Midnight in Paris.”

But as for Italy’s “To Rome With Love” – well, this is not the sort of gift the Eternal City particularly needs. Or American audiences, for that matter, who are basically presented with four barely there ideas and asked to pretend they’re a movie.

In one, a young couple, accidentally separated, enjoys separate affairs; in another, an American opera director discovers a singer who can only perform in the shower. In the third, a young man finds himself falling for his lover’s best friend; in the fourth, a minor bureaucrat wakes one day to find himself inexplicably famous.

All have elements of wild improbability, if not outright fantasy. In the third story, for example, the young man is advised by an older stranger who follows him around cynically predicting disaster. Sometimes other characters see this fellow, too; other times, they don’t.

Is he a projection of the young man’s worries? Is the young man a projection of the old man’s memories? Are both men, perhaps, even the same person? I have no idea, which is fine; what’s more troubling is that I’m not sure Allen knows either, or really cares.

Allen is back in front of the camera in this one, playing the opera director, and wrings a few smiles with his trademark nervous, gulping delivery; it’s also pleasant to see Judy Davis, an Allen veteran, as his unimpressed wife, and Penelope Cruz, such a sensation in “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” as a fiery call girl.

But the stories they’re all asked to act out are a little thin, and even treating the tales as outright fantasies can’t excuse the characters’ implausible behavior, or the script’s disinterest in such basic chores as putting actions within a time frame. It’s often difficult to tell whether hours have passed, or days.

Nor is Allen particularly helped by most of his cast. Jesse Eisenberg is boring enough as a dull American abroad, but when Greta Gerwig reluctantly introduces him to her dangerously sexy girlfriend – and it turns out to be Ellen Page – the movie begins to leak air. Ellen Page? As an eccentric and charismatic temptress?

Alec Baldwin comes off best as the jaded American who, happening upon Eisenberg, spends the rest of the film following him around offering words of caution. He gets off a few good lines about the melodrama of young love; clearly he’s having a good time. And why not? He’s in Rome, making a Woody Allen picture. It sure beats the hell out of kissing Russell Brand in “Rock of Ages.”

But even loyal fans have to admit this isn’t so much a movie as four little one-page New Yorker stories, strung together with “Volare” and one-too-many shots of the Trevi fountain. It’s nice that Allen found a way to have a European vacation and take a business deduction, too. But New York needs him back. And he needs New York more.

Ratings note: The film contains some strong language and sensuality.

Source: www.nj.com

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