RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Woody Allen was once the bard of Manhattan but his center of gravity has moved overseas. After several films in London, he set his latest in Spain. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
KENNETH TURAN: Comedy-deprived moviegoers are desperate for the return of the old Woody Allen - the one who made them laugh. Each new Allen film is frantically examined. Is he back? Please let him be back. But "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is not the return of Woody Allen. Elvis has truly left the building.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is, unsurprisingly, the story of two young American women, Vicky and Cristina, who spend the summer in Barcelona. Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall, is grounded and realistic - she's engaged to be married - while Cristina, played by Scarlett Johansson, is into suffering, passion and risk.
It's Cristina, naturally, who catches the eye rogue painter of Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem. He's an unabashed seducer who doesn't hesitate to chat them both up.
(Soundbite of movie, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (as Juan Antonio) I'd like to invite you both to come with to Obiello(ph).
Ms. REBECCA HALL (Actor): (as Vicky) To come where?
Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) To Obiello. We leave in one hour.
Ms. HALL: (as Vicky) You're asking us to fly to Obiello and back?
Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) No. We'll spend the weekend. We'll eat well, we'll drink good wine. We'll make love.
Ms. SCARLETT JOHANSSON (Actor): (as Cristina) Yeah, who exactly is going to make love?
Mr. BARDEM: (as Juan Antonio) Hopefully the three of us.
TURAN: No matter what you end up thinking about "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," it's hard not be entertained by the Oscar-winning Bardem, who eats this role up like it's a hot fudge sundae.
The problem is that "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is too intent on being taken seriously, to be more than mildly diverting. Allen himself said in interviews that this was a film about relationships, not a comedy - and he's right.
Some of Allen's best work bridges the gap between humor and drama, but "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" has neither the humor nor the insights to make this happen. Despite its focus on the romantic entanglements of innocents abroad, this film barely rises to the level of Henry James lite.
There is nothing wrong with Allen's intention to marry comedy to emotion. It's simply too bad that he's not as good at it as he used to be.
MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. You can see clips of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," and decide a little bit by yourself at NPR.org. There are also reviews of more of the week's new movies there.
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