Stop me if you've heard this one before: Woody Allen made a movie about a grumpy stick-in-the-mud who fiercely barks about rationality and mortality and ends up stiffly romancing someone way younger than him. Perhaps it's hacky in and of itself to accuse Allen of withdrawing to familiar territory with his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, but despite the charming Roaring '20s costumes and Southern France location, the whole thing feels wearily familiar, and not in a comforting way.
Colin Firth is our caustic hero Stanley, a celebrated magician who performs in exaggerated Chinese makeup to audiences around the world, but is possessed of firm ideas about the difference between reality and fantasy. He's contracted by an old friend (Simon McBurney) to journey to the French Riviera and disprove the supposed psychic powers of a charming young woman (Emma Stone) who's hoodwinking a rich family. Will this grumpy but articulate stick-in-the-mud remain resolute before the winsome Sophie?
Firth is a charming actor when he's doing nothing, and he does his best with the material Allen gives him, which is a lot of barking in everyone's face about how they're naïve fools. Stone looks utterly lost, as she does so often in period pieces. Yes, Sophie is intended as a bit of an enigma, but Allen's plot points her in only one direction with Stanley. No kind of chemistry between the two ever arises, making their eventual romance, arrived at through pages of halting dialogue, feel particularly awkward.