Paris-Manhattan (PG) 2.5 stars
Alice Taglioni, Patrick Bruel
DIRECTOR: SOPHIE LELLOUCHE
REVIEW: MARK NAGLAZAS
You'll like this if you liked Woody Allen classic romantic comedies Annie Hall and Manhattan, Amelie, Looking for Eric, Priceless, Beautiful Lies.
In his 1972 hit Play It Again, Sam (one of his "early funny ones") Woody Allen plays a recently divorced film critic who feels so inadequate around women that his silver-screen hero, Humphrey Bogart, turns to give him dating advice.
Emboldened by Bogie in his tough-guy Casablanca mode, Allen makes a move on his best friend's wife (Diane Keaton). Unfortunately, his Bogart impression goes hilariously awry, forcing Allen to give Rick the flick and accept his own self, the loveable neurotic the world would come to adore.
First-time French director Sophie Lellouche borrows the idea of Play It Again, Sam, substituting Allen himself as the imaginary confidence-boosting guru who advises a lovelorn Parisian pharmacist named Alice (Alice Taglioni) on matters of the heart.
When things go awry, such as the infamous evening in which her older sister swoops on a handsome, jazz-loving guy she saw first, Alice retreats to her bedroom and opens up to her poster of Allen, whom she "idolises out of all proportion" (to borrow from Allen's masterpiece, Manhattan).
And Allen talks back in the form of quotes from his films, dispensing maxims about life and love that elevated him to philosopher/artist status for university- educated types during his golden years in the late 1970s and 80s. (His insights into l'amour were tarnished somewhat when he married Mia Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn.)
On the surface it's a charming idea that channels the adoration the French have for Allen, who returned the compliment with his surprise blockbuster Midnight in Paris.
That obsession is played out sweetly in the pharmacy where Alice works. Instead of filling prescriptions and handing over drugs she gives ailing Parisians DVDs from her Allen collection.
However, Alice's fixation soon wears thin, even for Woody worshippers such as yours truly, as it's little more than a cutesy quirk and tells us nothing about her soul, the character flaw that leaves her alone in her room talking to a poster.
While Allen's fragile film buff in Play It Again, Sam lacks the sophistication and confidence to romance women (hence the appearance of Bogie), Taglioni's Alice is a tall, beautiful, classy and confident young woman whose Allen obsession is a matter of taste rather than a problem. She might as well be nuts about the movies of Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers or Baz Luhrmann.
Indeed, it is difficult to pin down what Allen has to teach Alice other than love is full of problems. Hence, Paris-Manhattan is little more than a collection of goofy romantic moments that will please those who love stories played out against the world's most beautiful city, and a brief appearance by Allen himself, that unfortunately serve to remind us how inadequate is this homage, no matter how loving.
And it also slips into a cuteness that would make Allen cringe.
In one scene a security expert played by Patrick Bruel fits Alice's pharmacy with an alarm system in which a button is pushed and a would-be thief immobilised by a shot of chloroform. Of course, it goes wrong and the Amelie-esque gives the thief a couple of Allen DVDs that will change his life.
Indeed, one of those Woodmeister classics will be just the tonic after Paris-Manhattan, which doesn't quite leave you with an aching head - it goes down easily - but still leaves you a little deflated, especially after the off-the-wall delights of To Rome With Love.
I recommend you watch The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, then call me in the morning.