August 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight' needs more of the former

Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in 'Magic in the Moonlight.' (Sony Pictures Classics)

“Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t very magical, although it is moonlit.

Certainly Woody Allen’s weakest film in years, it takes place in wealthy, sun-dappled estates owned by English and American folk in France during the 1920s. As far as production design and costuming and cinematography go, the movie offers a lush fantasy of indulgence and gauzy nostalgia.

But that’s just the look. The talk — and there is much talk — is another matter entirely.

Colin Firth stars as Stanley, a master magician who performs in Chinese guise as the exotic Wei Ling Soo when he’s not pursuing his side gig of debunking those who claim supernatural powers. As soon as we meet the constantly barking or biting Stanley, we realize he is an egomaniac preoccupied with the power of reason.

An old friend (Simon McBurney) convinces Stanley to help expose a supposed psychic named Sophie (Emma Stone) who is staying with some filthy rich Americans — an heiress (Jacki Weaver) and her son (Hamish Linklater), who is deeply in love with Sophie.

This sets up the confrontation between reason and romance that has been one of Allen’s chief preoccupations over the years. But the question is raised so loudly, and often, and so baldly throughout that it becomes one note played badly, with none of the nuance that Allen usually brings.

Even worse, there are virtually no laughs to be had in this movie, though it’s dressed up as a romantic comedy. It mostly resembles an overlong lecture on the power of reason and man’s need for escape. Which is fine subject matter when it’s supporting a story and characters who feel real, but such things are missing from “Magic in the Moonlight.”

'Magic in the Moonlight'

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout

Running time: 97 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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