The inevitable downside of Woody Allen's movie-a-year output is deeply felt in "Magic in the Moonlight," his 2014 effort and 44th film overall.

There's simply no way to be as productive as Allen for this long without churning out a hefty share of mediocre endeavors.

This one belongs alongside "Hollywood Ending," "To Rome with Love" and "Small Time Crooks" rather than "Blue Jasmine" or "Match Point." It's an exceedingly minor picture, an insignificant wisp that recycles familiar Allen themes behind only the thinnest of plots.

Taking place on the French Riviera during the '20s, the picture finds a magician named Stanley (Colin Firth), famed for his pan-Asian act, brought in by a friend (Simon McBurney) to debunk beguiling young mystic Sophie (Emma Stone), who has charmed her way into the hearts and minds of a fabulously wealthy mother (Jacki Weaver) and son (Hamish Linklater).

Firth reverts to playing the prissy archetype it once seemed as if he'd abandoned, albeit with more of a snide comic bent than usual. Few Allen characters have been more transparently meant to elucidate the filmmaker's apparent world view, mostly by repeating familiar canards about the meaninglessness of the universe.

Stone is charming, of course. One gets the sense that she'd have trouble turning off her natural charisma. But Sophie is at best a whimsical stereotype and at worst merely a mirror reflecting Stanley's own preoccupations back to him.

There's just not much to the entire production save for some gorgeous scenery and chic period costumes. The dialogue repeats the same themes ad nauseam, the comedy involves exceedingly tame romantic bickering and any dramatic impact is lessened by an abiding casualness.

Like "To Rome with Love" (2012), this plays like the sort of picture designed to give everyone an excuse to spend time in one of the world's most beautiful areas.

 

 

Directed by Woody Allen | Starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Jacki Weaver, Hamish Linklater | Rated PG-13