The problem with cranking out a movie a year, every year, the way writer-director Woody Allen does, is that sometimes you end up with wan, uninvolving pictures such as You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Recycling themes and situations that he’s explored in the past, Allen once again dives into the realms of marriage and infidelity, but his best movies of the past decade (Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) have relied more heavily on the chemistry of their casts than on their scripts. Even Whatever Works, Allen’s previous movie, got by not on originality but on the performance by Larry David as a cranky New Yorker whose life was changed by an unexpected romance.
But in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the talented cast fails to gel into a dynamic ensemble: You just see actors going through familiar paces. Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) and Helena (Gemma Jones) have been married for 40 years when he decides he needs a change and walks out, blaming her for “allowing herself to get old.” He hooks up with a much-younger, high-priced escort, Charmaine (Lucy Punch), whom he ladles with luxury and jewelry. The couple’s daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), is having problems in her marriage to Roy (Josh Brolin), a frustrated novelist whose latest manuscript has been rejected by his publisher.
While Alfie enjoys his late-life crisis (with the handy help of Viagra), Sally starts spending time with her boss (Antonio Banderas), who has the passion and spontaneity her husband lacks. Roy, meanwhile, develops a crush on Dia (Freida Pinto), a woman who lives across the street, and works up the courage to ask her out to lunch.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger hops back and forth among all the brewing affairs, but Allen’s heart doesn’t seem to be into it. The movie feels like the work of a director going through the motions (he covered near-identical territory with much more bite and urgency in 1992’s Husbands and Wives, an underrated classic), and the cast, left to their devices as Allen’s actors usually are, fails to bring depth to the characters. The sight of Hopkins and Punch as a couple is never believable – it’s supposed to be a joke, but the actors don’t sell the relationship – and Brolin’s self-doubting writer (a role Allen might once have played) is a bore.
Watts and Banderas make for the most interesting pairing: You can see how Sally would be seduced by his gentlemanly charms, but Banderas keeps us guessing as to whether the attraction is mutual. Their potential affair is the juiciest, most promising plot strand in the the film, but it also gets the least screen time, as if Allen weren’t paying attention. And when Roy finally figures out a way to break his writer’s block, resulting in the most interesting and surprising twist in the story, the movie abruptly ends. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is minor Woody at best – minor on the verge of feeble.