2012 Running time: 108 Certificate: 12 Not yet rated

Synopsis

Woody Allen steps in front of the camera for the first time since 2006's Scoop to join a typically starry cast in this quattro formaggi platter of love and laughs, made in the Eternal City. Allen is the opera director who is crazily inspired after meeting the gifted father of his daughter's Italian fiance, while visiting architect Alec Baldwin guides student Jesse Eisenberg through a tricky romantic situation. Elsewhere, Penelope Cruz's call girl puts a newlywed in a compromising position and local nobody Roberto Benigni suddenly finds himself a national media star. As you'd expect, a few funny things happen on the way to the Forum.

Director

  • Woody Allen

Cast

  • Woody Allen

  • Judy Davis

  • Jesse Eisenberg

  • Alec Baldwin

  • Penelope Cruz

  • Ellen Page

  • Roberto Benigni

Review

Beginning in 2005 with the abysmal Match Point and followed by the straight-to-DVD misfire Scoop, the nightmare of Cassandra's Dream, and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (not if we can help it), the London leg of Woody Allen's European tour is best forgotten.

But the move to Spain - resulting in an Oscar for Penelope Cruz and a nomination for himself for Vicky Cristina Barcelona - showed signs that Woody had found his Euro-mojo. The French fancy Midnight In Paris seemed to prove it.

Alas, this slap-dash Italian job represents a return to disappointing form.

Comprising four unconnected stories ranging from the romantic to the ridiculous, the film's most striking conceit is that none of them have any bespoke relevance to Rome. Apart from giving Woody a few cultural landmarks to hide his pretensions behind.

Thus we meet John (Baldwin), a visiting architect suffering from "Ozymandias melancholia" (symptoms: smarminess and lechery). He alleviates his condition by acting as romantic adviser to fellow American Jack (Eisenberg), a student draftsman who loves his girlfriend (Gerwig) but gets into a real lather with the arrival of her sexually adventurous best friend (Page).

Bafflingly, John is introduced as a real person but gradually becomes a randomly appearing, Jiminy Cricket-like presence in the burgeoning affair. Whether Jack is or isn't John's younger self, the device doesn't work.

Another thread sees Jerry and Phyllis (Allen and Judy Davis) jetting in to see their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) and meet her fiancé Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).

So far, so awkward, until musical visionary Jerry hears Michelangelo's dad (real-life tenor Fabio Armiliato) singing in the shower and sets him up for a professional audition. When that falls flat, Jerry has a flash of inspiration... Unfortunately, Allen flogs the ensuing joke until it's hoarse.

Just as laboured is the satirical story of Leopoldo (Italian comedy icon Benigni), a middle class non-entity who suddenly finds himself hounded by the paparazzi, his every thought and deed turned into major news.

As a swipe at the celebrity culture that makes people famous simply for being famous, it's about as subtle as a Kardashian wedding.

And then there's the lazily contrived farce in which a young man from the sticks (Alessandro Tiberi) tries to pass off a sassy prostitute (Cruz) as his wife when his wide-eyed real spouse (Alessandra Mastrionardi) gets lost in the city.

It's all highly frivolous and knowingly absurd. But no matter how romanticised, there's something not right about a world in which infidelity and adultery emerge as forces for good.

More worryingly, Woody's powers of direction and dialogue appear to be deserting him. Where snappiness used to be his trademark, every vignette here outstays its welcome, not helped by a flip-flopping structure that gives the impression that events are happening at the same time when, distractingly, they are not.

There are a few zingers, but Allen keeps the best for himself, leaving his co-stars to flounder through too many gag-free exchanges that feel forced, awkward or both.

After Midnight In Paris, it could bring on a chronic bout of Ozymandias melancholia.

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