Sony Pictures Classics

The normally even-tempered A.O. Scott of The New York Times last week delivered this uncommonly savage opinion of Woody Allen’s genial, if modest, movie “Magic in the Moonlight,” saying, in part: “Our time has been wasted, our attention trifled with and our good faith insulted.” That’s as violently negative an opinion as I’ve seen in the Times for any film this side of a feckless slasher movie — especially since Allen generally gets something of a pass from the newspaper and particularly since this is, at worst, an agreeable trifle of a movie. Certainly it is not one of the writer-director’s more aspiring works, but also not an affront to anyone. In fact, it is handsomely mounted, decently acted and a rather cordial discussion of magic and metaphysics in which the estimable Colin Firth falls rather grouchily in love with a clairvoyant played winningly by Emma Stone.

One of the things that gets Scott’s cork is that Firth is some 30 years older than Stone — and the movie makes no reference to this disparity. This leads to some rather inappropriate remarks — or so I think — about Allen’s own adventures across the sexual age barrier, though, of course, April-November relationships are obviously one of life’s commonplaces. And so far as we can see they work out about as well as we have a right to expect, neither better nor worse than other romantic arrangements.

I’m guessing that Scott’s problem with this movie lies in the way it has been publicized. For want of a better term, it has been identified as the one thing it definitely is not, that is as a “romantic comedy.” It has, at most, a half dozen rather wan laugh lines and its gestures toward romance are rather pallid as well. That is to say it wants to be taken seriously. In this ambition, it fails. I think in this instance Allen has, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, settled for a mild amiability, rather than going for the sort of savagery that might have made this movie worth attending closely, even uncomfortably.

Here, I think, we come close to the problem that surfaces in “Magic in the Moonlight.” It is fecundity. We all know that Allen makes on average one movie a year. He has talked about having a drawer full of scripts in various stages of completion, which he resorts to when he’s looking for a new project and nothing more pressing presents itself. He is, I believe, the most prolific American moviemaker and, on the whole, good for him. But sometimes he needs to slow down. This movie is a case in point. It needs more careful development — you know, another rewrite or two. You sense in it real potential, which eludes the author as he hastens on. Allen needs, often enough, to wind his films more tightly. If that means slowing his pace slightly, so be it.

“Magic” is an enjoyable film in its minor way. You will not leave it disappointed or feeling in some way cheated. Work rhythms are one of the mysteries of moviemaking and fecundity is surely Woody’s way. He — and we — are stuck with it, mostly for the better I think. But I do sometimes wish he would relax just a bit. He really has nothing more to prove.

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