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'To Rome With Love': Woody Allen's Euro-pudding

From left, actors Jesse Eisenberg, and Roberto Benigni, director and actor Woody Allen and actress Penelope Cruz pose in Rome during the photo call for 'To Rome with Love.' (AP/Andrew Medichini)

The most refreshing statement I read about Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love came from Allen himself. In response to a question of why he was “doing the Continent” since four of his last films were set (and produced) in London, Barcelona, Paris and now Rome, he said, “Money.” He gets a call and follows. Since the majority producer of To Rome With Love is the Italian film conglomerate Medusa, we can assume the call came from someone connected to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns Medusa.

Allen is now a global brand. He makes movies relatively cheaply ($18 million for Rome) — they have some star value and can be sold to many markets. On the heels of the postcard pseudo-realism overdose of his last film, Midnight in Paris, why not apply the same picture postcard treatment to Rome? Better yet, let’s make it a love story (or four), mix some newcomers with Allen’s stock company (Judy Davis, Penelope Cruz) and add a few Italian actors for good measure (Roberto Benigni, Ornella Muti). Woody Allen has now joined the factory machinery producing cinematic Euro-pudding.

Not much of To Rome With Love makes much sense — not that it needs to. But I didn’t laugh and at least for the first hour; it was plodding and boring. In the best of the four interwoven stories, a naïve American girl meets a Roman do-gooder lawyer. She falls in love. Her parents (Allen and Davis) come to meet the groom’s parents. Allen, a failed opera producer, pushes the prospective groom’s father into operatic stardom once he hears him singing opera in the shower.

The movie is under-rehearsed and under-developed, with many stiff lines that read like a dramatic script not fully adapted. The acting is all over the place — from a remarkably restrained, but barely contained Benigni to Jesse Eisenberg, who is not quite able to realize that he is in a different movie than The Social Network. Eisenberg plays a young architect who strays from his girlfriend when an overly-hormonal American friend visits.

The worst sins:

To Rome With Love is boring and not really funny. Yes, Rome DOES look beautiful, but in many scenes it seemed to me like CGI images were integrated in the background.

My advice:

Get some re-constituted potato chips (the kind that have no taste except salt) and plant yourself in front of a TV set. As for seeing Rome, you’ll have saved $20 towards airfare.

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