Feels like one of Woody Allen’s nonchalantly written, quick-draft jobs. Magic in the Moonlight is another magician scenario for Allen, who has brought it up several times in recent years (“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Scoop,” one subplot in “To Rome With Love”). It’s no doubt Allen wanted to devote an entire film to the behind the scenes life of a renown magician with the earnest goal of making a mild and pleasing entertainment. Colin Firth’s character makes a living dressing up as 1920’s Chinese conjurer Wei Ling Soo, who wows audiences with disappearing and levitation acts (not all that unique, sorry Woody). After he takes off his stage makeup, he is propositioned by a friend to go to the South of France to debunk a psychic medium (Emma Stone) as a fake. Ta da! That’s supposed to be a recipe for fun and enchantment, a romp of mystic surprises and unexpected amour.
Thirty years ago, Allen made a pretty and leisurely farce set in the countryside called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that was not received well. And, he complained that American audiences rejected a movie that was never intended to be more than pretty and fragrant fare, a soothing diversion. Honestly, “Midsummer” was a dull trifle. “Moonlight” is nearly on the lines of being another dull trifle.
Sunny and mild, easy on the eyes, besotted by its scenic locales – it looks good. Yet, the story never lifts you up and generates any vital emotion. Firth and Stone aren’t bad and have their moments, but they don’t sparkle together at all. Firth, nearly resurrecting his Lord Wessex character in the non-Allen Oscar winner “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), is a man who confuses intellectual arrogance for sexual irresistibility. Yet, he’s simply too abrasive and adds too much baggage than the film’s modest weight can bear. As for Stone, she’s well… too damn young and daffy to match the character or couple with Firth.
Allen has always had a gift for writing incredible dialogue, but the constant talk and bantering in his second-rate pictures can gnaw at you – I wanted to scream at Colin’s character to relax. Allen makes minor movies like this title in-between the great ones, “Blue Jasmine” of last year being one of his great ones.
I would still tell you tireless Woody devotees that it wouldn’t hurt to see “Moonlight,” just don’t expect it to be one of his essentials. Nice in places, swell backdrops, just harmless and frivolous. With Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Atkins, Jacki Weaver and Hamish Linklater.
100 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
COMEDY / MILD & CHARMING / LAZY AFTERNOON COUCH VIEWING
Film Cousins: “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1981); “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001); “Scoop” (2006); “The Illusionist” (2006).