October 15, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' -- GRADE: B+

Review: For Woody Allen fans, 'Stranger' is a must-see

Freida Pinto is a neighbor in the middle of messy relationships. (Sony Picture Classics)

Love is folly, life is random and meaningless, belief is an opiate.

Welcome to a Woody Allen movie.

"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" is classic Woody — an ensemble cast of brilliant actors, a timeless story that could be set virtually anywhere and crisp writing and direction that neither lollygags or rushes.

As with most recent Woody films, there is no Woody character here, in other words a central neurotic male role that he would have played when younger.

And as with most recent films, it's a bit hard to tell where the comedy ends and the drama begins; they're swirled together throughout.

"Stranger" centers on two couples, the divorced Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones), and their daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) and Roy (Josh Brolin).

Alfie left Helena because he doesn't want to feel old. While out playboying he hooks up with an outlandish prostitute, Charmane (the delicious Lucy Punch). Soon they're married, and she's spending his money like mad. Meanwhile, Helena has turned to a fortune teller for guidance, believing everything she's told.

Helena has a bad habit of popping in on Sally, who works for a high-end art dealer (Antonio Banderas), and Roy, a medical doctor-turned-failed-novelist who has his eye on a beautiful neighbor (Freida Pinto).

If it doesn't sound as if much good can come out of all these relationships, you're right, except Allen makes them play out in a manner that is every bit as entertaining as it is ultimately dark.

"Stranger" doesn't have the fire and mortal wit of "Vicki Cristina Barcelona," but it's certainly in Allen's upper echelon of work over the past decade. And that's quite an echelon. If you like Woody, this is a must-see.