‘Magic in the Moonlight’
Rating: PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking.
Length: 100 minutes.
By Jake Coyle
Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight,” a romantic comedy bathed in the sunset glow of the French Riviera and starring two of the more effervescent faces in movies — Colin Firth and Emma Stone — is, no doubt, sweetly sugary — if ultimately flat — stuff.
The film begins in 1928 Berlin with the chaotic backstage life of a haughty, grouchy Chinese illusionist, Wei Ling Soo, played by the magician Stanley Crawford (Firth). It’s a promising start: Here is Firth, in regal, oriental garb and long mustache, disparaging autographs as “for mental defectives.”
It’s an argument for illusion in our lives, no matter how fraudulent; for love, no matter how illogical. “Magic in the Moonlight” is a disbeliever’s earnest plea to believe.
These are, of course, ideas Allen has long explored, and “Magic in the Moonlight” often feels like the kind of tidy New Yorker humor story the filmmaker might pen. Even with bright performances and lively chemistry between Stone and Firth, the movie is stale with the fixed rhythm of the written word, not alive to its images, despite the rich setting.
Allen is in complete control of the film, both its comic pacing and its philosophical quandary. But perhaps that’s the problem: Like Crawford, “Magic in the Moonlight” needs to be less in control of itself. The film doesn’t believe in magic enough.