Magic in the Moonlight (3 stars)

Magic in the Moonlight

Sparks fail to fly between Colin Firth and Emma Stone in Woody Allen's latest

Woody Allen waves his wand for the 44th time (a figure worthy of a sharp intake of breath) and the result is rather less bewitching than its twinkly title suggests. The promising premise involves one professional swindler attempting to unmask another – but can an aging, egotistical conjuror really resist the charms of a winsome medium?

The year is 1928 and Colin Firth is Stanley Crawford, otherwise known as faux-Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo. As the best trickster in the business he's called in by pal Howard (Simon McBurney) to expose the fakery of hokey spiritualist Sophie (Emma Stone) who has implanted herself in the affections of the wealthy Catledge family, particularly the smitten Brice (Hamish Linklater) and his widowed mother Grace (Jacki Weaver). However, when it seems like Sophie may be the real deal Stanley is forced to question his entire ethos.

With its moneyed South of France setting and mismatched leads Magic in the Moonlight channels Hollywood's golden era. In a pairing that's pure screwball it brings together a kook and an uptight cynic, at first for squabbles and then for romance (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, of course, did it best). Sadly, magic is lost in the casting. Firth acts as a lead weight to light comedy and, although Stone fares better, her modern style feels out of sync with the dated material. Meanwhile, sparks between the two are out of the question; somewhat thankfully, considering the age chasm.

Allen's script is effortlessly smart, though it presents its bitterness without accompanying bite and the whole enterprise lacks zest. There's pleasure in the production values – the fashion is fabulous, the locations sumptuously shot – while the story is intriguing, if slight. Unfortunately, this aesthetically sunny, romantically drizzly period comedy represents another middling effort from a former movie maestro.

General release from Fri 19 Sep.

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) Official HD Trailer

Magic in the Moonlight

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 37min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Woody Allen
  • Cast: Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver
  • UK release: 19 September 2014

Set in the French Riviera at the height of the roaring 20s, a British magician sets out to uncover a possible fraud spiritualist exploiting a family.