Movie Review: Woody Allen conjures up jazz-age ‘Magic’

Other-worldly romance: Colin Firth and Emma Stone in
Other-worldly romance: Colin Firth and Emma Stone in "Magic in the Moonlight."

‘Magic in the Moonlight’
★★★ 1/2

Woody Allen probably didn’t break a sweat coming up with this light, romantic change of pace following last year’s heavy-duty “Blue Jasmine,” but it’s basically a delight, nonetheless.

Colin Firth, with his air of cerebral melancholy, fits perfectly into the Allen universe as Stanley Crawford, a celebrated (and notoriously pompous and arrogant) 1930s stage magician with zero respect for anyone who believes in magic and a Houdini-like sideline in debunking phony psychics. It’s in that capacity that he’s approached by his old friend Howard, a fellow magician who’s been unable to figure out how an attractive young medium is plying her trade.

Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, also a natural for Allen movies) is a young American medium who has attached herself to the mother of Howard’s wealthy friend Grace Catlidge (Jacki Weaver) and stolen the heart of her ukulele-strumming simp of a son (Hamish Linklater).

Stanley has no doubt he’ll uncover her tricks in short order after he arrives at the Catlidge’s Côte d’Azur mansion, but Sophie doesn’t make it easy for him. For one thing, while her trance-isms are overtly bogus, she knows things about Stanley that he can’t account for. And after several attempts to catch her in the act fail, he finds himself first shifting to grudging respect for her skills and then developing uncharacteristic romantic feelings for her.

There’s a pleasant, old-fashioned quality to “Magic in the Moonlight” that comes close to emulating the vibe of a real product of 1930s Hollywood — certainly closer than anyone other than Allen could come to pulling off that trick.

That means, of course, that no one is going to be surprised by the direction “Magic” takes, but it’s not likely that too many of his fans will be disappointed, either. (If you’re not a fan, don’t expect to be won over by this one.) Underneath the glamorous and amusing surface, Allen also touches on enough substance to give the story some dramatic ballast. Faith vs. reason, for example, and the way faith, even if it’s unfounded, can provide happiness.

Best of all, “Magic” has more than its share of quality Allen one-liners, such as Stanley’s observation that he “always thought the unseen world would be a good place to open a restaurant.”

It’s nice to see that Allen, for the time being at least, has gotten tragedy out of his system.

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