"Dark Stranger" a serviceable Woody Allen comedy

Mon May 17, 2010 12:43am EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES (Hollywood Reporter) - The grass is always greener in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," Woody Allen's roundelay of perplexed characters chasing illusions rather than reality.

As a film from Allen's ongoing British/European period, where he spins out comic trifles or morality plays that drift seemingly free of national context, the comedy is more amusing than most, though it lacks the vibrant spirit of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." This is Woody in a bemused mood, devilishly complicating his characters' lives with follies and foibles of their own making until he ties each protagonist into a comic pretzel. Then he takes a tea break.

Its Cannes launch can only help "Stranger" in those European territories where his films tend to find receptive audiences. Back home, the film will do modest business along the lines of most of his comedies.

The film's multiple London-based stories all concern characters seeking shortcuts to happiness. Each one thinks that if only X will happen, then I can live happily ever after. But even if that were true, no one has any patience: Each is determined to grab X right away. Naturally, a fake fortune-teller -- isn't that a redundancy? -- gets involved.

Anthony Hopkins' Alfie -- perhaps a wink and a nod to Michael Caine's '60s-era sexual predator -- awakens one morning to discover that he's old and married to a wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), of the same age. So he bolts married life for a regimen of strenuous workouts and bachelor quarters. When this doesn't swiftly restore his youth, he decides to marry a call girl, Charmaine (Lucy Punch), in hopes she will give him a son.

The couple's grown daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) sends her mother to a charlatan fortune-teller (Pauline Collins) just to keep her mom from thoughts of suicide. The fortune-teller promises her she'll meet "a stranger." And indeed she does in a recent widower (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) who believes in spiritualism.

Meanwhile, Sally's brooding novelist husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), appears washed-out after a "promising" first novel. While awaiting word from a publisher on his latest manuscript, Roy spends his days gazing longingly at a new and beautiful neighbor in the next building. When he contrives to meet her, Dia ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Freida Pinto) is so charming he falls madly in love. But she's already engaged.

With her husband unwilling to commit to raising a family, Sally takes a job in an art gallery, where she develops a crush on her boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). But she can't tell if Greg, who has his own matrimonial miseries, shares her feelings.   Continued...