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Movie Review: 'To Rome With Love' -- 2 stars

Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg in "To Rome

Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg in "To Rome With Love"(Sony Pictures Classics, Philippe Antonello) Credit: Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg in "To Rome With Love"(Sony Pictures Classics, Philippe Antonello)

To Rome With Love
2 stars
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg
Rated R

After his "Midnight in Paris" success, Woody Allen shifts to another romantic European city in "To Rome With Love," his new movie. But the inspiration is missing.

"Rome" lacks the spark that so eloquently connected the time traveling "Paris" narrative with its City of Lights setting. Allen's latest is a slight ensemble piece with four meandering storylines that trade in absurdist comedy, united only by the inescapable fact that there's nothing especially Roman about them.

Allen, returning to acting after a six year absence, plays retired opera director Jerry, who's arrived in the Eternal City with wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) to meet up with daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and her new fiancee Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).

Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and Sally (Greta Gerwig), Americans living in Rome, welcome Sally's alluring best friend Monica (Ellen Page), leading to no end of temptations for Jack. Things are complicated by the presence of John (Alec Baldwin), a well-known architect who offers his unsolicited thoughts on the situation.

Everyday clerk Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) suddenly becomes famous, hounded by paparazzi and beautiful women.

On their Roman holiday, husband and wife Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) find themselves separated by a series of unfortunate circumstances.

Allen's script circles between the vignettes at such a rapid pace that it just skims the surface, without focus. It's as if the filmmaker knew he didn't have that single, engaging story this time around and chose to distract us by producing four of them. So we're left watching the unfolding of fitfully amusing comic conceits with little reason to care about them.

There are, of course, worse ways to spend time then sitting in an air conditioned theater looking at picturesque images of the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and other Roman landmarks. And the movie, like most of Allen's films, is really about its maker's self-perceived failings and foibles. It features a wealth of characteristic touches, from neurotic protagonists to ruminations on mortality, and fans of the filmmaker's early, broad comedies will appreciate the semi-return to that form.

But "To Rome With Love" plays less like a movie Allen truly needed to make than one he took on so he could get a little work in on a Roman vacation. 

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