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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

"To Rome with Love" is a new movie starring Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page. And it is the 42nd film Woody Allen has directed. For four decades, Allen has been churning out movies, nearly one a year.

Our critic, Bob Mondello has a phrase for that.

BOB MONDELLO: Like clockwork, that's the phrase. But I'm hesitant to use it because my whole sense of time has been scrambled by "To Rome with Love" - pleasantly scrambled, but still.

Why? Well, there are four unrelated stories taking place apparently simultaneously: one about a retired American opera director and his new discovery...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

WOODY ALLEN: He's going to be a big star.

MONDELLO: ...one about Italian newlyweds and the prostitute and movie actor who comes between them...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

ALESSANDRO TIBERI: (Foreign language spoken)

(LAUGHTER)

PENELOPE CRUZ: (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: ...one about an Italian clerk who suddenly becomes famous for no reason at all...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

ROBERTO BENIGNI, ACTOR: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

MONDELLO: ...and one about a romantic triangle with an extra character who's not actually there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

ELLEN PAGE: (as Monica) I don't really want to do it here.

ALEC BALDWIN: (as John) Does it really matter what the venue is?

MONDELLO: The thing is, even though Woody Allen cuts between these stories as if they're all happening at once, logically they can't be. The opera story, which involves staging a full production of "Pagliacci," would have to take place over several months. The newlyweds' story only makes sense if it all happens in a single afternoon. And nobody so much as refers to any of this.

It's so off-hand, it's as if the director didn't even think about making the pieces fit together. Except that he has to have thought about it to make them fit together so smoothly; from an undertaker's being overheard while singing in the shower to the pleasure of a kiss that wrecks a relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TO ROME WITH LOVE")

PAGE: (as Monica) Oh, that's not good.

JESSE EISENBERG: (as Jack) Why? Why, you didn't like it.

PAGE: (as Monica) No, I liked it and that's what's not good.

MONDELLO: "To Rome with Love" is just froth - a romantic sampler with some decent jokes and gorgeous Roman backdrops. It goes down easily, but I have to say it's interesting less for what it is than for how it is. Allen's playing-around-with-time thing, coming right after his characters in "Midnight in Paris" engaged in time travel, suggests that the filmmaker, at age 78, is hearing the ticking of the clock in complicated ways - and playful ways.

Yes, time flies and it runs out. But for whatever reason, time doesn't seem to be weighing very heavily on Woody Allen.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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