On his working tour of Europe's capitals, Woody Allen finally takes a snooze with "To Rome With Love." Ostensibly an ode to the Eternal City, it feels more like a dashed-off postcard to remind us that the director is still alive.
Allen, 76, certainly deserves a vacation. Since leaving his beloved Manhattan in 2005, he has kept up his movie-a-year stride, producing some of his best work (the London-based "Match Point") and a personal box-office best (last year's "Midnight in Paris"). But Rome, with its comfortable Mediterranean climate and easy-to-overcook stereotypes, has lulled Allen into temporary complacency.
A collection of narrative scraps ranging from romantic comedy to magic realism, "To Rome with Love" is not without charm, and Allen still has new jokes to crack about his favorite topics (fidelity, celebrity, artistic integrity). But he's so inattentive that his actors seem to be directing themselves. Some do a great job: Penélope Cruz simmers as a saucy prostitute, newcomer Alessandra Mastronardi is enchanting as a deceptively demure schoolteacher and the bouncy Roberto Benigni (in an unrelated story line) is irresistible as an anonymous schmo who becomes famous for no reason.
Others, however, look lost or simply forgotten. Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg, playing versions of the same character, visibly search around for help; Greta Gerwig is wasted as a generic girlfriend. (Ellen Page, though miscast as the seductress in that triangle, gets by on her offbeat charm.) Allen himself is on autopilot as a neurotic music producer who discovers a brilliant singer (Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato, gamely spoofing his profession), while a very funny Judy Davis, as Allen's exasperated wife, easily outguns her director.
Even by Allen's standards, "To Rome With Love" is a throwaway. But there's always next year.
PLOT Romances and dreams blossom in the Eternal City. RATING R (language, sexual themes)
PLAYING AT Angelika New York; City Cinemas 1, 2 and 3; and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Manhattan. Opening on Long Island in July.
BOTTOM LINE Not without its charms, but the sketchy stories and lost-looking cast make this a throwaway even by Allen's standards.