After turning out his best film in years with ‘Midnight in Paris’, Woody Allen’s creative revival comes to a juddering halt with a foursome of would-be amusing vignettes that barely muster a laugh between them. Rome provides an excuse for Dean Martin’s ‘Volare’ on the soundtrack, as well as an opera-themed sketch (with Woody back in front of the camera playing a retired music-biz exec convinced he’s discovered the new Pavarotti), and the ever-resistible Roberto Benigni mugging away as an average Giuseppe turned into a celeb by the brainless local media. Mostly though, the Eternal City is there for unremarkable tourist-eye footage as background filler.
Almost everything here plays like an early draft a younger Allen would have sharpened up considerably. His own co-starring turn and the Benigni segment are one-joke affairs of thudding obviousness, while elsewhere a farcical misunderstanding between two shy, provincial Italian newlyweds lands Penélope Cruz with a toe-curler of a role as a brassy prostitute who takes a hands-on approach to the plot’s mounting confusion.
Somehow Allen has landed a stellar cast with an average script, and it’s the actors who make this just about tolerable. Jesse Eisenberg does a passable Woody Jr as an architectural student falling for flirtatious neurotic Ellen Page while disregarding the sage advice of Alec Baldwin, a suave scene-stealer as Eisenberg’s imaginary advisor. Yes, there’s the occasional smile to be had, but it’s a long way from Allen’s 1972 effort ‘Play It Again, Sam’. And when a relatively minor Allen film becomes the benchmark, you know you’re sliding down the quality scale.