Hero or villain, writer-director Paul Haggis divides: he’s either the guy whose middlebrow ‘Crash’ stole the Oscar from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ or the writer of the brutally effective ‘Million Dollar Baby’. All the flavours of Haggis are present in this cringe-inducing romantic drama, which skips from New York to Paris and Rome in a clichéd symphony of modern-day neurosis. In one story strand, there’s aloof Michael (Liam Neeson), a best-selling novelist who toys with the affections of Anna (Olivia Wilde), an aspiring writer and his illicit bed partner. But if you’re not crazy about that plot, try Adrien Brody as some kind of con artist who can’t wait to get out of Italy – until he falls for spunky gypsy Monika (Moran Atias) and gets swept up in her criminal drama. Still not sold? How about desperate Manhattanite Mila Kunis? She bounces from job to job in a sheen of sweat, while battling over a child with her smug ex-husband, a loft-lording painter played by James Franco.
The story pileup feels like a game of Indiewood channel surfing, tossing up several mediocre options. To the cast’s credit, these self-deluding characters seem more raw than the ennui-laden Angelenos of ‘Crash’. And grappling with the film’s aggressive subtext of a missing third person – a wife, a child, a mysterious booty-caller – gives the whole thing some shape. It’s crushing, then, that the movie’s big reveal is the kind of narrative do-over that could only spring from the mind of an almighty writer in love with playing God – or with himself.