Midnight in Paris

Just because you’re responsible for some certifiable classics doesn’t mean every project you touch is gold. Each year, the prolific but private writer/ director adds another work to his filmography, and critics gush, only to grow indifferent toward it once the newness wears off. Can’t we just call a spade a spade?

The Woodman’s latest to be touted as “his best in years” is “Midnight in Paris,” opening Friday exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24. It’s neither a work of excellence, nor mere greatness. Like a majority of Allen’s work, it’s simply a decent diversion, and nothing more. If any other filmmaker’s name were attached, how would it be received?

But wow, does it start with an absolutely dynamic sequence that raises one’s hopes. Similar to his rightly celebrated, George Gershwin-scored prologue to 1979’s “Manhattan,” this featherweight comedy opens with a day-to-night montage of spots around the City of Light. For the whole of a jazz number, each shot appears for four seconds; each has you lusting after a one-way ticket.

From a pure standpoint of scenery, “Midnight in Paris” is worth the $9.50 investment. For entertainment value, it’s not — unless you’re so easily amused that the mere mention of a famous name sends you into inexplicable fits of laughter.

Owen Wilson (“Hall Pass”) is Allen’s neurotic stand-in as Gil, a hack screenwriter who longs to write the Great American Novel. He’s accompanying his spoiled fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams, “Sherlock Holmes”), on a trip to Paris. One evening, strolling its streets alone, he’s transported via magical cab to the 1920s, where he befriends such literary and artistic giants as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dalí and so on.

And I do mean “and so on.” If that smacks of gimmickry, that’s because it is. Essentially, the no-brain comedy “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” did the same thing in 1999. It wasn’t all that funny, either.

Don’t mistake every line as some brilliant bon mot, as some audience members are wont to do — the ones who wish the rest of the theater to believe them of superior intelligence because they recognize the names Alice B. Toklas and Edgar Degas. So did I; so what?

These fantasy sequences play curiously flat and bereft of ideas; I’d much rather have watched Gil and Inez continue sight-seeing with her college crush, an arrogant bore played by a scene-stealing Michael Sheen (“TRON: Legacy”). Much of the plot then would be removed, but at least interest would exist.

Rod Lott

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