Review - Comedy romance - MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (PG)
98 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***
The story: In late 1920s Europe, stage magician Stanley (Colin Firth) is asked by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to expose a clairvoyant named Sophie (Emma Stone) as a fraud. She has everyone under her spell at a mansion of the Catledge family in the south of France, including the very smitten son, Brice (Hamish Linklater). As she passes test after test under Stanley's watchful eyes, he begins to wonder if she might be the real thing.
Despite a star-studded cast that includes Firth (A Single Man, 2009), Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man, 2012) and Eileen Atkins (Gosford Park, 2001) as a wise aunt, Magic In The Moonlight is not quite magical.
For a while, the film coasts along on Firth's considerable charm and Woody Allen's biting dialogue.
Stanley might be a successful magician, but he is by no means a pleasant person. He has a tart disposition and an acid tongue and is described as having "all the charm of a typhus epidemic".
The fun is in watching someone so full of himself wavering when he comes face to face with spirit medium Sophie Baker.
Is she a charlatan or truly "a visionary and a vision"? The sight of a blustery Stanley in deep denial over his growing attraction to her is also entertaining.
As the sunny Sophie, the likable Stone gets to showcase her star quality as well and is a good foil for Firth.
Writer-director Allen keeps you guessing as to Sophie's true nature. She seems open and friendly and does not shy away from contact from the man trying to call her bluff. Like Stanley, you might soon find yourself fervently wishing that magic exists.
Sadly, unlike the prolific film-maker - who continues to work at a pace that would put most of his fellow film-makers to shame, averaging one film a year, when he is well into his 70s - the movie runs out of steam towards the end.
Once the plot takes a definitive turn, there is not much else for Allen to do other than tie up loose ends and wrap things up neatly.