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Allen’s ugly vision of love in ‘Magic’ ‘Lucy’ Johansson sci-fi action movie

For half a century, Woody Allen has proselytized the lovability of misanthropes. But the too-prolific filmmaker evidently enjoys hearing himself talk much more than he does coming up with new stories or ideas, which is why the daftly repellent romantic comedy “Magic in the Moonlight” is another insulting exercise in convincing audiences that we should embrace those who love to hate us. As might be expected from a Woody Allen film, our misanthrope protagonist is a middle-aged curmudgeon whose dexterous wordplay disguises, at least for a little while, how tiresome he really is. (One unfortunate target of his rage is attributed the “charm of a typhoid epidemic.”)
 
Colin Firth lends his considerable charisma to his character Stanley, a flourishing magician of the interwar years who performs on stage as the “Oriental” illusionist Wei Ling Soo. Since Stanley tricks his audience twice at each show, first with his sleights of hand and then with his yellowface, he has made debunking others who claim to have special powers, particularly psychics and mediums, his lifelong aim. Stanley is soon recruited by an old friend (Simon McBurney) to prove the fraudulence of American clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone), who has ensconced herself in the hearts and house of a wealthy European clan in the South of France.
 
Against postcard-perfect backdrops (the film’s greatest seducer is the French countryside), Stanley discovers that Sophie just might be the real thing. She guesses Stanley’s Chinese alter-ego, a professional secret, almost immediately, and soon after rattles off specific details about his fiancée, his deceased uncle, and his childhood home.
 
Personified 
As the unambitious, uneducated innocent from Kalamazoo, Sophie is nonthreatening femininity personified, the seeming opposite of her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), who makes sure that she and her daughter are able to keep themselves fed and sheltered, not to mention dressed in the finest Paris clothiers have to offer that season. Sophie’s abilities so revolutionize Stanley’s worldview that his newfound hopefulness turns into love. For reasons utterly unknown, Sophie was smitten first, despite pledges of eternal love from a young millionaire Brice (Hamish Linklater), forever dressed in tennis whites.
 
Stone is loose and funny and irresistible as ever, so it’s frustrating to watch her character become increasingly besotted with an older man who could learn a thing or two about manners from Henry Higgins. Stanley shares some similarities to one of the characters most identified with Firth, the principled-to-the-point-of-obnoxious Darcy of the first half of “Pride and Prejudice,” but the moment when the insufferably pretentious and judgmental duckling turns into a gracious, affectionate swan never arrives.
 
Even when he falls in love, Stanley can’t help openly mocking her for being unable to attribute literary quotes to their authors. The romance’s arc is such a middle-aged crank’s manic-pixie-dream-girl fantasy, complete with older man learning to enjoy life again through his younger paramour while still retaining his unfailing sense of superiority to her, that it wouldn’t have been surprising if the third-act twist turned out to be that he was a vampire feeding off her youth and vitality. To make the romance all the more unappealing (and unlikely), the generation-wide age gap between Firth and Stone is never mentioned, even though the latter is frequently dressed in flowered hats  to make her look even younger than her 25 years.

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LOS ANGELES: “Lucy,” the Scarlett Johansson sci-fi action movie, is shaping up as a sleeper hit at the summer box office ahead of its July 25 opening. Written and directed by veteran Luc Besson, Universal’s “Lucy” stars Johansson as a woman forced to work as a drug mule who gains superhuman brain power and kicks considerable bad-guy butt after the drug seeps into her system. Morgan Freeman co-stars. Tracking suggests an opening in the $40 million range, or roughly what it cost to make. The studio wasn’t talking Thursday. (RTRS) Johansson has appeared as the Black Widow in three Marvel movies, so she’s experienced box-office success. But “Lucy” is on track to be by far the biggest opening for a movie in which she’s played a lead, well ahead of 2006’s “The Prestige” or 2005’s “The Island.”
 
It also will easily be the biggest opening ever as a director for Besson, who’s been on the action movie scene since “La Femme Nikita” in 1991. He’s recently focused on producing via his EuropaCorp film company, and wrote and produced Liam Neeson’s “Taken” movies. “Lucy” stands to benefit from Johansson’s increasing action star credibility, which has gotten a big boost from her roles as the Black Widow in Marvel’s “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Johansson’s pregnancy with fiancé Romain Dauriac is drawing considerable media coverage and that isn’t hurting, either.
 
Summer’s typically a slow time for female-led movies, and “Lucy” looks like it is positioned to capitalize on that void. Universal moved the release date up from Aug. 8 to July 25 a couple of months ago. The building buzz around “Lucy” isn’t going to help “Hercules,” the Dwayne Johnson sword-and-sandals saga directed by Brett Ratner from Paramount that will open against it. The Michael Douglas-Diane Keaton comedy “And So It Goes” also opens on July 25. 
 
By Inkoo Kang

By: Inkoo Kang

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