To Rome With Love 

Critics have raved! Not this one!

>To Rome With Love

C-

There is something cosmically unjust about a universe that allows Woody Allen to attract a budget and endless parade of A-list actors to whatever half-baked idea he wants to throw at the screen — while Albert Brooks continues to scrape and scramble to launch his next project. It's not that Brooks, whose intelligence and comic abilities are at least as acute as Allen's, doesn't stumble. It's just that his failures are so much more interesting than Woody's recent successes. For instance, despite the mystifying accolades heaped on Midnight in Paris, it was still middle-of-the-road Woody, mostly benefiting from Owen Wilson's presence.

Yes, I understand that Allen had an astounding string of films in the '70s, earning him the kind of adoration and respect that few auteurs deserve. But no director before or since has been afforded the seemingly bottomless well of resources and critical latitude he continues to enjoy. When the top-tier critics review garbage like Melinda, Melinda or Scoop, they express disappointment, like teachers disappointed that their pet student isn't performing up to his scintillating potential.

From my perspective, To Rome With Love, like so many of Woody's films, demonstrates the exact depth of his potential: lazy and lackluster cinematic doodles. This has been his standard for roughly 20 years. Over that time, his few highlights (I grudgingly call mediocrity like VickyChristinaBarcelona and Match Point such) are the exception rather than the rule. Never mind that Woody has nothing new to say — he has nothing to say at all (unless you want to count his continued scorn and hostility toward women).

Here, Penelope Cruz is a hooker, Ellen Page is a shallow and narcissistic actress, Greta Gerwig is a colorless cuckquean, and Alessandro Mastronardi is a naïve newlywed who is easily seduced by both an older, overweight actor and a hotel burglar. Oh, the hilarity! Those gals are all just so easily manipulated and stupid.

The plot is essentially a CliffsNotes version of Allen's worst instincts, four hastily sketched vignettes tied together by a postcard exploration of Rome. There's an American architect (Alec Baldwin — delivering the best lines) revisiting his first European love affair, a provincial Italian couple who are separated by a series of clichéd mistakes and mishaps (apparently no one in Italy has a smart phone), a retired opera director (Allen) who discovers that the mortician father of his soon-to-be daughter-in-law is a vocal prodigy (but only in the shower), and a middle-class Roman nobody (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly and inexplicable finds himself an adored celebrity.

Except for that last piece, which is an occasionally clever satire on unearned fame, To Rome With Love is a dull collection of obvious and schematically constructed plot conceits topped off with poorly written dialogue, jokes you can see coming from a mile away, and far too few of Allen's trademark bristly one-liners.

Originally called Bop Decameron then changed to Nero Fiddled, perhaps Allen kept trying to find a title that wouldn't act as an unintentional commentary on his work. It's fitting that he ultimately settled on something so crushingly banal.

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