There is a soupcon of magic and moonlight but considerably more insecurities and bluster in Woody Allen’s playful yet lightweight romantic comedy set on the sun-kissed 1920s French Riviera.
The writer-director’s frequent forays away from his beloved New York to European soil have been decidedly hit-and-miss affairs and Magic In The Moonlight disappoints more than it delights.
Allen affectionately evokes the era and the writer-director loads the soundtrack with upbeat jazzy tunes that telegraph the characters’ emotions.
Regrettably, sparkling one-liners are in short supply on the Cote d’Azur and the on-screen chemistry between Colin Firth and Emma Stone is lukewarm.
The film opens in 1928 Berlin where magician Stanley Crawford (Firth) delights a sell-out audience in his guise as Chinese conjuror Wei Ling Soo.
Backstage, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley’s best friend, entreats him to accompany him to the Riviera to debunk a psychic medium called Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has promised to help wealthy widow Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver) make contact with her late husband.
In return, Grace has pledged to fund an expensive institute fronted by Sophie’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden).
Swatting aside warnings about Sophie’s beauty, he heads for the Catledge villa posing as businessman Stanley Taplinger.
In no time at all, Stanley is smitten and the celebrated magician struggles to find a rational explanation for her boggling feats of mind-reading and clairvoyance.
Magic In The Moonlight is a valentine to Allen’s lifelong fascination with tricks and illusions and he engineers one moment of misdirection to quickly untangle the knotty central plot.
An even bigger trick would be convincing us that Firth and Stone make a perfect match but it’s doubtful Houdini could have pulled off that gross deception.
Even the supporting cast, who have a canny knack of scoring Oscar nominations in Allen’s work, are subdued, even Eileen Atkins in the plum role of Firth’s straight-talking aunt.