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MOVIE REVIEW: 'To Rome With Love' very forgettable

To Rome With Love

(PG-13)

2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars

Staying true to his lifetime career path, Woody Allen has followed-up one of his best films ("Midnight in Paris") with another that is largely uninspired, average and immediately forgettable.

Set (obviously) in Italy, "To Rome with Love" is Allen's fifth straight film taking place in now four different European countries. The first of these, "Match Point," was terrific and marked a new phase for Allen, who rarely ventured beyond the comfort zone of his native New York.

The biggest problem with "Rome" is that so little of it feels "Italian" or takes advantage of the opulent, classical, Old World setting and could have just as easily taken place anywhere, say ... New York, for example.

On the upside, Allen has finally let go of the often creepy May-December romantic plotline where he was the love interest to a woman young enough to be his granddaughter (you know, like his current wife). This time out, there are four other couplings where six of the participants are cheating on their respective spouse/partner. Allen's traded in cradle-robbing for simple adultery, which could simultaneously be viewed as a step up, a step back or an equally morally bereft lateral move. Neither he nor any of the characters seem too concerned or troubled about it.

As is always the case with every Allen movie -- good or bad -- his casting choices here are masterfully accurate. Allen never auditions actors and hires them based on his own gut instinct, much in same manner as Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty back in the day. His only misfire in "Rome" was casting himself as a typically paranoid, fussy and aloof version of himself.

Faring the best and appearing to be having the most fun is the most recent Allen muse Penelope Cruz as a brazen call girl, scantily clad in all red and simultaneously giving a young newlywed the biggest scare and thrill of his life. Coming in a close second is Alec Baldwin, who may or may not be a mirage that doles out sound romantic advice to an aspiring architect played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is contemplating ditching his sensible live-in girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) for her flighty yet sexually magnetic actress chum (Ellen Page).

Illicit couple number three is actually a threesome consisting of the newlywed's lost, star-struck wife, another over-sexed celebrity and a pistol-wielding thief. If you think this scenario sounds amazingly improbable and couldn't possibly work out, you'd be right.

Fidelity and monogamy have never fared well in Allen's films, and it's no different here. Playing a retired opera consultant, Allen and his acid-tongued wife (Judy Davis) come to Rome to meet the family of the man engaged to their blase daughter (Alison Pill). The fiance is a de facto communist whose idea of success is providing pro-bono (non-paying) services for indigent clients. This, of course, drives Allen's character up a wall but he soon gets distracted by the fiance's father, an undertaker possessing primo operatic pipes. The trouble is he can only sing while bathing.

Vaguely smacking of the type of farce that was favored by both the French and the Italians in the '70s, "To Rome with Love" finds Allen operating on auto-pilot with the knowledge his crack cast will save him -- which they do, barely.

It's far too late in the game for the nearly 80-year-old Allen to change his workaholic habits and his fans are going to see the film regardless of what the critics say. They already know their chances of not liking the movie a bunch is about 50/50, but they're willing to settle for those odds. Genius, even if it's only part-time genius, tends to garner a lot of trust and loyalty.

Presented in English and Italian with English subtitles. (IFC)