For his fourth London-set venture, Woody Allen returns to his favourite theme of mid-to-late life meltdown among the bohemian classes. Anthony Hopkins is the old fool who lives to regret remarrying a gold-digging tramp, while his ex-wife (Gemma Jones) puts her destiny in the hands of a dodgy clairvoyant. Meanwhile, their daughter (Naomi Watts) and her husband (Josh Brolin) are also considering extra-marital solutions to their problems. This being Woody, neurosis, delusion and an A-list cast are always on the cards.
Woody Allen might know Manhattan like the back of his hand, but in returning to the scene of recent crimes Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream, it's astonishing that he still sees London like a first-time tourist raised exclusively on E. M. Forster and Ealing comedies.
His latest tale of middle-class trouble and strife begins with poor old Helena (Jones) seeking guidance from a kitchen-table psychic (Pauline Collins) when her husband Alfie (Hopkins) suddenly ditches her to recapture his youth – or at least a younger woman.
And, in part-time actress/ full-time bimbo Charmaine (Lucy Punch), he gets his just reward.
Their daughter Sally (Watts) is also feeling the marital strain with Roy (Brolin), a failed doctor turned deeply mediocre novelist.
With money tight, Sally takes a job working for dishy art gallery owner Greg (Antonio Banderas). As they bond over opera and earrings, Roy awaits his next rejection by ogling Dia, the gorgeous minx who's just moved into the flat opposite (Slumdog Millionaire's Frieda Pinto).
Infidelity is in the air and - though Helena would like to believe otherwise – fate is in their hands.
Thirty years ago, Allen might have turned this into a sparkling affair. But gone are the zinging one-liners and sharp observations, replaced by cringe-makingly unconvincing dialogue and a reliance on the same lazy narration that made Vicky Cristina Barcelona so irritating.
And though Allen has never been exactly feelgood, his previously endearing pessimism has given way to a mean-spiritedness that here borders on misanthropy.
Worse yet, his male characters become sadder and seedier while his gift for creating strong female roles appears to be on the wane.
Take the aforementioned earring saga. Leaving aside the jeweller's flagrant Health & Safety breach when Sally tries them on for Greg's pleasure, imagine her horror when she sees them dangling from the ears of her artist friend (Anna Friel). Greg is not only cheating on his wife, he's not cheating on her with Sally! Life is so unfair.
Sally is a whingeing hypocrite, living on her mother's money while encouraging her dependence on booze and fortune-telling, then denouncing her as an imbecile for it. This after taking a job as Greg's assistant, only to lament that he treats her like an assistant. Sorry, who's an imbecile?
With the one-dimensional Charmaine nothing but a cheap joke, Punch is also underserved while Pinto is merely a fresh-meat replacement for Allen's three-time muse Scarlett Johansson.
Would a nice girl like Dia really drop her fiance for a married creep on a downhill slide? Especially one who asks her to leave the blinds up whenever she undresses and introduces her to his mates down the pub with the line “I've been exploring the erogenous zones of this wonderful creature...”? Yeeuch.
Intentionally or not, both Roy and Alfie come across as unflattering reflections of the public perception of Allen himself.
Yet while Brolin works hard to put flesh on sneaky Roy, there's no such effort from Hopkins who – one Viagra-related episode aside - drifts through the entire film like he's under sedation.
As the film's only vaguely sympathetic character, however, Jones is a delightful mix of confusion and delusion. Alas, her efforts can't mask the underlying sense of futility and palpable lack of warmth.