Woody Allen is up to his old tricks in Wonder Wheel but they dont work this time

WONDER WHEEL (Woody Allen) 101 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). See listings. Rating: NNWoody Allen is turning into the master.

WONDER WHEEL (Woody Allen) 101 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). See listings. Rating: NN

Woody Allen is turning into the master of inconsistency. As his latest, Wonder Wheel, proves, theres no guarantee that whatever emerges from his imagination is going to amount to much.

In this piece, set in the 50s, Kate Winslet plays Ginny, a one-time actor who regrets just about everything in her life. Shes the unhappy wife of Coney Island carousel operator Humpty (Jim Belushi) and mother of a pre-adolescent (Jack Gore) from a previous marriage, who sets fires for fun. When she begins a secret affair with the cute lifeguard Mickey (Justin Timberlake), she gets some of her juice back, only to be sabotaged when Humptys daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) arrives and catches Mickeys eye.

If all this sounds like the stuff of melodrama, thats precisely Allens intention. Mickey wants to become a playwright and theres the sense that the movie is actually Mickeys developing script (Enter Ginny, says Mickey when she first appears).

Winslet gives it everything shes got in one of those anti-vanity turns designed to get Oscar attention. Fitting for the melodramatic strategy, she slowly unravels, much to Humptys confusion, whereupon Winslet comes perilously close to overacting. Timberlake seems to think charm can carry him through the role, but hes wrong and seems way over his head.

But none of that matters much because its almost impossible to care about the characters. You get so bored with the repetitive story bring back the days when Allen refused to make a pic over 90 minutes long that you find yourself looking past them to Miguel Lopez-Castillos supert art direction. The spectacular opening shot serves only to make the eventual letdown even more painful.

And the film pounds away at its metaphors: you get the carousel going round and round and the Wonder Wheel ride outside the familys apartment spinning endlessly. Do we need two symbols of someone being in a rut?

Allen is trying to press some of his old buttons. Once more, hes inserted himself in the film via Mickey. Ginnys key decision would have worked in Crimes And Misdemeanours. Carolinas gangster subplot, featuring The Sopranoss Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa, recalls Bullets Over Broadway. But Wonder Wheel isnt as good as either of those pics.

Speaking of Bullets Over Broadway, which garnered seven Oscar noms in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against him (yeah, like the Academy cared), theres not much of a whiff of Allens creepiness here. Some have suggested that Mickeys rejection of the elder Ginny once Carolina comes into the picture reflects Allens rejection of Mia Farrow in favour of his step-daughter Soon-yi Previn, but I think thats a reach.

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