"Magic in the Moonlight"

Emma Stone (left) and Colin Firth star in “Magic in the Moonlight,” now playing at Downtown West in Knoxville.

I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I’d never seen a Woody Allen film before this week.

It’s not that I had purposely avoided the writer/director, but I hadn’t sought him out either. And then he brought me a combination I couldn’t say no to.

When I first saw the trailer for “Magic in the Moonlight,” I was intrigued. Not only did it have my new girl crush Emma Stone, but it had my longtime love Colin Firth. The latter stars as a magician and ultimate skeptic when it comes to anything beyond the reality he can see. Stone plays a psychic who becomes his target and must be debunked.

Firth’s character Stanley is completely against the idea of a world beyond the one in which he lives. There is no afterlife, there are no spirits, and there is no God. For Stanley, what you see is what you get.

Enter Sophie (Stone). She holds seances, predicts your future and generally tries to convince those around her that the world is full of magic and mystery. Stanley and Sophie clash repeatedly.

The more I watched, the more I pondered Allen’s stance on religion. It was pretty obvious from Stanley’s negative stance on life itself, Allen’s own bias had to play a part. For the record, Allen’s an atheist, so I was right.

Honestly, Stanley’s over-the-top curmudgeoness didn’t bother me. Firth has made a career playing similar characters. His lovable yet grumpy Englishman gets me every time. And Stone’s ability to play the quirky girl next door has made her a household name.

Unfortunately, the endearing nature that has always drawn me to both actors wasn’t there for this one. For the most part, it felt like both were simply speaking lines from a page rather than telling a story. I’m not sure the blame lies with them or with Allen.

There was so much potential here. A magician, whose entire career is based in trickery, taking it upon himself to prove someone else a fraud. Make both characters stubborn, full of life and amusing. Throw in a little reluctant romance. It should have worked.

And yet it didn’t.

Stone and Firth had a definite lack of chemistry. It could be blamed on the lackluster relationship written for the two. As Stanley tries to catch Sophie in a lie, the “connection” between the duo grows. Or it’s supposed to. Frankly, their banter seems flat and their friendship forced.

Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get past the age differences between our two leads. Firth is 53, while his leading lady is a mere 25. Stone’s youth was accentuated by the lack of makeup her character wears, and she looked much younger than 25. I couldn’t help but think how Firth is more than old enough to be her father.

Their relationship wasn’t the only one that seemed ridiculous. We meet Stanley’s fiancee, Olivia, briefly in an early scene that seems randomly placed. I’m pretty certain it’s only a filler to let us know he does, indeed, have a fiancee.

Other performers aren’t quite so wasted. Hamish Linklater is featured as Brice, Sophie’s trying-his-damnest-to-be suitor. He’s rich, worshipping and has a fondness for serenades. While Linklater embraces his role, his ridiculous mooning made me roll my eyes more than once.

Jacki Weaver stars as Brice’s mother, who needs Sophie to validate her late husband’s fidelity. Marcia Gay Harden is featured as Sophie’s stage mother. Both are all right, but nothing special.

The only actor that left a decent impression with me is British actress Eileen Atkins, who portrays Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa. She’s a nice foil for Stanley’s over-the-top obnoxiousness.

I understand Allen films can be hit or miss. “Annie Hall” and others are film classics, while others fall flat. While this one had a lot going for it, the magic was missing. A predicatable ending and too many moments that coulda, shoulda, woulda been brilliant helped it falter. Maybe my expectations were too high, but unless you’re a die-hard Allen fan, wait till this one comes out on Redbox.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor of The Daily Times. Contact her at amanda.greever@thedailytimes.com, follow her on Twitter @agreever_editor and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dailytimesweekend.

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