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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (AF)


Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones, Lucy Punch, Freida Pinto, Pauline Collins, Ewen Bremner, Anna Friel, Christian McKay, Philip Glenister, Neil Jackson, Jim Piddock, Celia Imrie, Alex McQueen, Anupam Kher, Meera Syal, Joanna David, Geoffrey Hutchings: narrator Zak Orth

Director: Woody Allen

Woody Allen is a genius. He must be, since, given his dismal screenplay, only a genius could have managed to persuade anyone to finance this feeble project or cajoled actors of the calibre of Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Antonio Banderas into appearing in the film. (For UK audiences, the sole consolation is that while the film was shot in London, this time they did not have to pay towards its production with their television licence money as was the case with Match Play, Cassandra’s Dream and the rightly unreleased in Britain - except by DVD pirates in north London – Scoop).

Hopkins looks embarrassed (and rightly so) as he coasts through his emaciated role of a wealthy husband hoping to regain his mojo by romancing Cockney call girl Lucy Punch (who is truly terrible and makes Barbara Windsor at her most ‘Carry On’ corny resemble Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare). Allen even resorts to product placement when Hopkins takes Viagra so as to satisfy the much younger Punch. Jones, Hopkins’ wife of 40 years, is consulting a fake fortuneteller, their daughter Watts falls for her gallery owner employer Banderas while her novelist husband – an utterly unconvincing Brolin – worries about the fate of his latest manuscript and makes a play for musician Freida Pinto who he spies on through her window…

I apologise if I have accidentally made the clichéd characters and equally flabby narrative seem interesting. They’re not.

It’s hard to know – and even harder to care – what Allen, who seems to grind out a movie every year regardless of whether anyone actually wants to see it, was aiming at since this fails both as drama or comedy. It resembles nothing so much as a a pallid pastiche of a Woody Allen movie made by someone who didn’t really care about the project but was simply going through the moviemaking motions. None of the performances makes any impact but that is as much the fault of the screenplay and direction as of the actors. Wit, insight or meaningful drama are largely notable by their absence.

Hopkins and Watts look miserable (which, given their characterisations and their lines, is perfectly understandable) while Brolin and Banderas simply go through the motions. Too often a narrator (Zak Orth) is left to try and fill in what the performances and storyline too often leave inexplicit and more often than not, he fails.

I had assumed Hollywood Ending, Cassandra’s Dream and Scoop marked Allen’s nadir as a filmmaker, He and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger have emphatically proved I was wrong.

Alan Frank

UK/Spain 2011. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by deluxe.
98 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 13 Mar 2011