B-movie legend Bruce Campbell said in his autobiography If Chins Could Kill, that he was more than happy to take a role in the expensive, dreadful, Michael Crichton adaptation Congo, because it meant he’d get a free [and well paid] trip to Africa. Watching Woody Allen’s new film Vicky Christina Barcelona, one might easily assume that a lot of the actors took their roles to visit Spain for free. The familiar beats of Allen’s films kick in, the simple credits, the gentle music, the intrusive voiceover explaining all of the character motivations, the older couple seeing their missed opportunities through curious, younger characters, who suspiciously talk like neurotic 70 year old men.
Things get even more depressing when Scarlet Johansson shows up (Christina), Allen’s recent muse, who along with her engaged and pretentious friend Rebecca Hall (Vicki, who was clearly cast for her sisterly resemblance to Johansson), take a summer trip to Barcelona (see? A confusingly muddled title made obvious). Johansson, a thoroughly one-note actress, has, with her pouty-lipped blank stare and helium balloon voice, ruined two previous Allen films, Match Point and Scoop (a movie so forgettable I thought I had fallen asleep during it, but it turned out I sat through the whole thing). The blurbs that have been appearing in the TV ads saying that it is Woody’s “best film in the last twenty years,” are a complete misdirection, other than the schticky Bullets Over Broadway and Deconstructing Harry his output has been completely dreadful, nearly erasing the memory of Manhattan, Zelig, and Annie Hall, making the critical fellatio he continuously still receives, a rather large mystery.
However, Vicki Christina Barecelona may begin as a whiny travelogue (shot in Allen’s typical Brown-vision) and develop into foreign older man, played by the wonderful Javier Bardem, seduces younger women with his artistry and knowledge of local culture, by the time the film turns into musical copulation, it has developed into something entirely different. The tiresome one-liners disappear (though not completely, some great ones remain, “what do you want in life, besides a man with the right shorts?”), and something more mature develops, an exploration of contentious relationships, including attempts at a functional threesome. While Allen’s answers are rather pat (any dissatisfaction is your own, compromise is life’s most important ingredient), this is the rare PG-13 film (there is copious sex, but there is some bothersome photographic censorship) made for adults, that isn’t entirely insulting.