Allen’s ‘Rome’ is dullsville
Fame is fleeting: Roberto Begnini on the run in “To Rome with Love.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:48PM
TO ROME WITH LOVE
The unofficial rule that only every third or fourth film from the inexhaustible Woody Allen turns out to be a keeper resets with a vengeance in this uninspired and even occasionally tedious romance — a dull disappointment after last year’s delightful “Midnight in Paris.”
“To Rome with Love” (which borrows, inexplicably, the title of a forgotten 1969 sitcom starring John Forsythe) is a continuation of Allen’s grand — sometimes not so grand — sightseer’s tour of Europe during the past decade.
First London, then Barcelona, then Paris and now the Eternal City for this entirely disposable omnibus of sketchy love stories. If “To Rome” lingers in the mind at all, it will probably be for Allen’s equally sketchy attempts at fantasy and surrealism. Most of them fail, but one wonderfully absurd, ongoing sight gag emerges that arguably deserves a place in his best-of clips reel.
“Everything in this city is a story,” explains a Roman traffic cop who provides a prologue in halting English, but he doesn’t say anything about them being particularly interesting stories. And sure enough, as they line up at the starting gate, the only thing remarkable about the film’s four component scenarios is that each seems more ho-hum than the last.
John, a famous American architect (Alec Baldwin), returns to Rome to revisit the scene of a youthful romance gone bad and becomes involved in the romantic affairs of young architecture student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg).
Hayley (Alison Pill), an American tourist, falls in love with Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) after asking him for directions, precipitating a disastrous visit by her parents (Allen and Judy Davis).
Antonio and Milly, a young provincial couple (Allesandro Tiberi and Allesandra Mastronardi) contemplating a new life in the big city, lose track of each other and slip into separate romantic entanglements.
Leopoldo, an entirely uncelebrated middle-class Roman (Roberto Benigni), wakes up one morning to find himself Italy’s hottest new celebrity — for no reason whatsoever.
Each of the stories has amusing moments. Baldwin, for some reason, appears to be enjoying himself thoroughly, though his presence as a sort of spirit-guide during Jack’s developing infatuation with his girlfriend’s selfish, neurotic out-of-town visitor Monica (Ellen Page) becomes increasingly baffling — since he is often seen and heard by no one by Jack. He gets some of the film’s best lines, though. (“Go ahead, walk into the propeller,” he tells Jack, when it’s clear he isn’t going to see reason.)
Penelope Cruz is a welcome presence as a call girl with the wrong room number, forced to impersonate Antonio’s wife when they are caught together by his rich, conservative relatives — especially during a private tour of the Vatican.
Benigni is fun, in the beginning, as the nonentity no one ever listens to, who is suddenly bombarded by hordes of paparazzi demanding to know whether he wears boxers or briefs — though his vignette quickly loses focus and becomes repetitive.
And Allen is definitely a bonus as Hayley’s dad Jerry, a failed opera director who decides his future son-in-law’s mortician father Giancarlo (acclaimed tenor Fabio Armiliato) has a golden voice guaranteed to make him an international superstar. When he discovers that Giancarlo can’t sing unless he’s in the shower, no problem. Jerry stages a full-blown production of “Pagliacci” with Giancarlo scrubbing and warbling onstage in a portable bathtub.
The scrub-brush production of “Pagliacci” is such a good, strong, comic conceit (“He may not be the world’s greatest singer, but he’ll be the cleanest,” observes Davis as Jerry’s long-suffering wife) that it’s almost possible to imagine Allen coming up with the rest of the film, almost arbitrarily, to support it.
Armiliato sudsing his chest while belting “Vesti La Giubba” is most likely the only thing anyone will remember about “To Rome with Love” a few years down the road, and it’s almost worth the price of admission, just to marvel at it.
It might even be worthwhile to pay double to see it without the rest of the movie.