Film review: Magic In The Moonlight

Emma Stone and Colin Firth are good, but Woody Allen's Magic In The Moonlight is undone by its script.
Emma Stone and Colin Firth are good, but Woody Allen's Magic In The Moonlight is undone by its script.

Magic In The Moonlight

(PG) **

Director: Woody Allen.

Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney, Hamish Linklater, Eileen Atkins, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver.

EVEN 46 films into his career as a director, Woody Allen still finds interesting subject matter.

It's part of the secret to his success. His knack for catching intriguing story ideas and his prolific nature (he still puts out at least one film every year and has done so since 1977's Annie Hall) means you never have to wait long for a triumph to make up for a misfire.

Speaking in those terms, Magic In The Moonlight is definitely a misfire, but at least it has some great concepts and an interesting conceit at its core.

Set between the wars in Southern France, it stars Firth as Stanley Crawford, a man known to the world as the master illusionist (and fake Chinaman) Wei Ling Soo.

After a show he bumps into old friend Howard (McBurney), who convinces Stanley to use his skills and cynicism to help debunk Sophie Baker (Stone), a young American proclaiming to have psychic powers and the ability to speak with the dead.

Sophie has ingratiated herself with the rich and influential Catledge family and Stanley is certain she must be a charlatan after Catledge fortune, but upon meeting Sophie, Stanley finds himself questioning everything he knows.

As a set-up it's fascinating, and the mysteries surrounding Sophie help maintain interest, even though the script is blunt and hurried, and the dialogue occasionally distractingly unnatural.

The battle of the minds between Sophie and Stanley is equally gripping, at least initially, and Stone and Firth are good, but again, it's undone by the script.

The flaws in the screenplay eventually win out over the potential of the premise and the talent. Despite being only 90-something minutes long, Magic In The Moonlight drags, and neither Stone nor Firth can save it as the rushed feeling of the first half gives way to an unnecessary slog in the second half.

But worst of all are the incongruous characters and their actions. Stanley's arrogance and mirthless intellectualism feels like it should be funnier and less of a caricature, while Sophie is equally shallow, showing little beyond her mystical abilities and opportunism.

This is all in spite of Stone's bubbly performance and Firth's excellent stiff upper Britishness, which aren't enough to overcome the unnecessary aspects of their characters and relationship.

Beautifully shot with gorgeous art design and featuring a good cast and a promising set-up, Magic In The Moonlight should be a dazzler, but instead it fizzles thanks to an undercooked script.


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