Cruz (left), Bardem and Johansson say ¡Hola!, but you shouldn’t.
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA written and directed by Woody Allen, with Javier Bardem, Patricia Clarkson, Penélope Cruz, Kevin Dunn, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson. An Alliance Films release. 96 minutes. Opens Friday (August 15). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Woody Allen strikes out on Spanish soil
At Cannes earlier this summer, tout le presse was buzzing with the news that Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona included a three-way between co-stars Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. Well, it does, and here's the problem: it's precisely as erotic as any other sex scene from a Woody Allen movie. Which is to say, not very erotic at all.
Allen doesn't do erotic. It's never been his thing. And as much as he may depend on Johansson for visual inspiration these days - he's cast her in three of his last four films - he still can't be bothered to, you know, direct her. Or anyone else, for that matter.
I'm willing to call bullshit on the whole "late-period renaissance" argument. The guy hasn't made a good movie since Sweet And Lowdown - and that was nine years ago.
Match Point was just a rehash of Crimes And Misdemeanors; it only seemed novel because Allen set the action in London instead of New York. And have you seen Cassandra's Dream? (Oh, right, you haven't, because no Canadian distributor would release it.)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the aging writer-director's latest disappointment. It's a dreary romantic comedy that teases exotic eroticism and ends up being just another Woody Allen movie.
It takes its title from two characters and a location. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Johansson, who co-starred with Hall in The Prestige) are American students who fall into the orbit of the seductive painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) during a vacation overseas. He just walks up to them and offers to fly them to his private getaway, where they will drink wine, look at his art and eventually boink him. (This is not so much implied as promised.)
Vicky, the neurotic one, is hesitant; Cristina, the adventurous one, is up for it, and a great romance is born. Or it would be if Juan Antonio's crazy ex-wife, Maria Elena (Cruz), didn't turn up, all sultry and impulsive and casually homicidal.
There's some stuff about Vicky's engagement to a Manhattan scion (Chris Messina) and some other stuff about the girls' hosts (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn) sort of encouraging them to let loose while they're on vacation. Clarkson, in a few brief scenes, is powerful; she even makes Allen's musty dialogue sound like there might be some life in it.
Bardem and Cruz have their moments, too, but only when yelling at each other in Spanish. I had the distinct sense that they were egging each other on to see if Allen would stop them. As far as I can tell, he never did; he just sat there, letting the camera roll on and on, letting his reputation roll ever further away with each frame.