To Rome With Love, Woody Allen's latest stamp on his European work visa, has its charms. But they are so sparse that the film's raison d'etre stares you in the face for a solid 100 minutes.
It's location — and a lame collection of recycled bits and characters cut and pasted to fit that location.
One has to feel bad for the all-star cast of an Allen picture that fails. Alec Baldwin probably has waited his whole life for Allen to call. Young players Alison Pill, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg and Greta Gerwig probably were thrilled to be in his latest ensemble comedy.
And yet this multicharacter farce has little that's farcical, little that's even funny. A comical celebration of adultery in the country where they take cheating seriously, To Rome With Love has lovely Roman locations, a generous scattering of Italian actors and a set of non- interlocking stories so feeble they had to be ideas Allen whacked out of better films.
Eisenberg, of The Social Network, plays an architecture student living in Rome with his girlfriend (Gerwig), who has invited her best pal (Page, Juno) to visit, knowing that "every man who meets her falls in love with her." Baldwin is a world-wise architect who is an imaginary voice of reason in scene after scene as he tries to keep boy from cheating on girl.
Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is the clichéd American tourist who falls in love with an Italian (Flavio Parenti), a humorless lawyer. When her parents (Allen and Judy Davis) show up, Dad, a recently retired opera company director, does some vintage kvetching about the future son-in-law's prospects.
Then, Dad discovers that the boy's dad (Fabio Armiliato) is not just a mortician but a shower-singing tenor who could set the world afire — if he could find a way to sing with a shower nozzle dousing him. That's the most daft bit of To Rome With Love, and it's one that works.
Then there are the Italian episodes. A young couple (Alessandra Mastronardi, Alessandro Tiberi) get separated in the city, leading him into the arms of a prostitute (Penélope Cruz, va-va-voomed up) and her to the hotel suite of a randy/portly Italian movie star.
And Oscar winner Roberto Benigni shows up as a cubicle drone who inexplicably becomes a media darling in the nation that invented paparazzi. He's pursued by models and actresses, interviewed about what he had for breakfast. Why? To make a comment on the vapidity of Italy's obsession with "celebrity."
It's amazing how many sorts of comedies and dramas Allen has been able to get out of his invitation-only all-star "formula" over the years. But when they don't work — and To Rome With Love doesn't — it's often for the same reasons.
There's always some poor actor impersonating Allen's nervous little man (Here, it's Tiberi, doing Allen in Italian). The dialogue sounds as if Allen hasn't been outdoors in 30 years. The characters are stale stage archetypes. And the all-star cast he rounded up often recognize this. You can feel the boredom behind Baldwin's eyes as he drones through his lines
The players dare not deviate from the maestro's script. "I, too, want to see the ancient ruins." Who talks like that? Characters out of some arch 1930s stage comedy.
Allen's always prepping his next film when this one comes out. That's how Scoop, Hollywood Ending, Whatever Works, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Melinda and Melinda, Anything Else, Deconstructing Harry and other dogs in his crowded kennel came about.
It would be nice if Allen would take two or three years between movies, find a collaborator who's a little more hip, and strive to make not movies but movies that count.