REVIEW: Irrational Man (12A) ***

Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in Irrational Man.  PA Photo/Warner Bros.
Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in Irrational Man. PA Photo/Warner Bros.
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In front of and behind the camera, writer, director and actor Woody Allen has lovingly cultivated the persona of a neurotic, anxious and self-absorbed voyeur of the frail human condition.

His pithy one-liners are quoted endlessly and the controversies which have stained Allen’s personal relationships do not seem to have markedly tempered affection for his dialogue-heavy work.

In Irrational Man, the film-maker returns to dramatic canon after the froth and frippery of yesteryear’s Magic in the Moonlight, reuniting with leading lady Emma Stone for a spry tale of trial, retribution and murder most torrid.

Anguished philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives at the New England college campus of Braylin in the midst of an existential crisis.

Fellow members of staff expect Abe to inject ‘some Viagra into the philosophy department’ and ruffle faculty feathers.

Abe’s disenchantment with his life of teaching percolates in rambling lessons.

Allen’s personal relationships do not seem to have markedly tempered affection for his dialogue-heavy work.

At this low ebb, Abe casually welcomes the amorous overtures of fellow professor Rita Richards (Parker Posey), whose marriage to her husband Paul (Robert Petkoff) has stagnated.

He also intoxicates perky student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), to the chagrin of her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley).

Sitting in a diner one afternoon, Abe and Jill overhear a tearful conversation in an adjacent booth about an unfeeling judge, who is needlessly wrenching apart happy families.

Abe is enraged and resolves to reinvigorate his humdrum existence by taking the life of Judge Spangler (Tom Kemp).

Irrational Man explores Allen’s lifelong fascination with philosophy, wrestling tirelessly with questions of free will, which might get the writer-director’s juices flowing, but hardly sets our pulses racing.

Allen makes all too clear his feelings on personal vengeance in the film’s disappointing final reckoning.