For decades now, Woody Allen’s biggest problem has been that he is inevitably compared to Woody Allen.

If his latest film, “Irrational Man,” had been made by a complete nobody, it might be hailed as a deft, dark comedy of the soul. But since Woody has made countless outright brilliant deft, dark comedies of the soul — “Midnight in Paris,” “Vicki Cristina Barcelona,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” on and on — “Irrational Man” feels somewhat expected and not quite up to par.

More “Match Point” than “Manhattan,” “Irrational Man” follows philosophy professor Abe (a disheveled Joaquin Phoenix), a morose fellow who’s caught the existential angst virus. After he arrives at a small Rhode Island college to teach, he finds himself pursued by two women: fellow professor Rita (Parker Posey), who is unhappily married, and starry-eyed student Jill (Emma Stone).

Though he first leans toward Rita, there’s no satisfaction to be had there, so he eventually turns to Jill, all the while grappling with the pointlessness of his existence. But then he overhears a conversation in a restaurant, among people he’s never met, about an abuse of justice. Suddenly Abe’s life takes on a purpose: He will kill the abusive person and make the world a better place.

Invigorated by his sudden usefulness, Abe comes up with a perfect plan, which eventually turns out not to be all that perfect. The innocent Jill becomes embroiled in Abe’s scheme to her own obvious detriment. And things slowly fall apart.

All three leads are good, but the film’s climax seems a bit convenient and its issues somewhat broad. At the age of 79, Woody Allen is still a formidable filmmaker (“Blue Jasmine” was just two years ago). But he is also, inevitably, Woody Allen.

‘Irrational Man’


Rated R for some language and sexual content

Running time: 96 minutes

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