Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight has the vague look and feel of a Hollywood studio production from the 1930s, especially by one of the European émigré directors of the time, maybe Ernst Lubitsch or Robert Florey. But that’s as far as the resemblance goes, because anyone who’s been following Allen’s work knows that he’s currently between A-list projects, relaxing on his extended late-career tour of Europe’s choicest spots, the same tour that produced Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love. It’s a vein that’s just about played out.
The coasting continues with the comedic story of a successful professional magician named Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) — who goes by the stage name of Wei Ling Soo, complete with embarrassing pseudo-Chinese getup — and the romantic parlor games he plays with Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), an attractive, amateur clairvoyant who has aroused his disapproving interest. Stanley is convinced Sophie is a fake, and he aims to prove it by skillfully drawing her out. Their flirtatious cat-and-mouse game in and around a luxurious French Riviera villa, with Simon McBurney and Eileen Atkins hovering nearby, is lightweight, even by Allen’s usual standards.
Stanley is the sort of self-satisfied “rational man” of the world, twentieth century edition, who tosses out quotations from Nietzsche and scoffs at Sophie’s transparently phony “psychic foundation” and her séances. And so it’s a major shock for him to fall in love with her. By doing so he loses face, but also demonstrates there’s more to life than meets the eye. That’s really the only thing at stake in Magic in the Moonlight.
Masterpieces of literature and film have been built on less, but this genteel time-waster is not one of those. The scenery is intensely gorgeous, the wardrobe immaculate, Firth and Stone’s play-acting is soothingly civilized — if he could be pried away from his own material, Allen might be able to do something with a P.G. Wodehouse — but the film is essentially toothless. See it if you must, but we suggest a glass or two of wine beforehand.