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Review: Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ spins in circles

The director’s latest is a strained drama that never finds its footing

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Like the giant Ferris wheel on Coney Island, Woody Allen’s career keeps going around and around. Some rides are better than others, but it’s always worth checking out the view.

“Wonder Wheel” is one of Allen’s lesser rides. A strained drama about an unhappy marriage, an unlikely love triangle, a pair of bozo mobsters and a pyromaniac child, it never really comes together, and feels like it leaves you stranded at the top and forced to find your own way down to the ground.

Ginny (Kate Winslet) is a dreamer in 1950s Coney Island. She waitresses at the local clam shack, telling herself she’s playing the role of a waitress rather than living out the life of one. She’s married to a lumpy carousel operator named Humpty (Jim Belushi), whose estranged daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) shows up out of the blue to hide out from the mob — and what better, less obvious place to lay low than an apartment in the shadow of a gigantic Ferris wheel? Both Ginny and Carolina wind up falling for the same man, Mickey (Justin Timberlake, who also narrates), a lifeguard and wannabe writer who “relishes melodrama and larger than life characters.”

Ginny also has a pyromaniac son who can’t stop setting fires. Maybe he burned part of this script, which feels like a theater production that never made it to the stage. Winslet acts like she’s in a play, all breathy and fussy and big mannerisms, while Timberlake feels like he’s in a sketch based on a Woody Allen movie where Jimmy Fallon is playing the director. Nobody is on the same page.

Allen, 82, has his ups and downs, and while there have been more downs than ups lately he is always worth the benefit of the doubt. But “Wonder Wheel” is a ride to nowhere.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Wonder Wheel’

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13: for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking

Running time: 101 minutes