Woody Allen’s latest effort, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, opens with Shakespeare’s famous Macbeth quote about life being “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Allen likely intends the quote to be a wry, self-deprecating commentary on the human foibles viewers are about to witness. But it’s really more an indicator of how little he’s come to care about his creations: The lovelorn fusspots in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger certainly sound like characters in a Woody Allen movie, and they get themselves in various romantic entanglements, but damned if the sum of their mixed-up lives amounts to anything in particular. Like the worst of late-period Allen, the film recycles character types from his previous work without inventing new reasons to summon them into existence. They’re left stranded, seven characters in search of an author.
Shooting in London for the fourth time, Allen has already lost interest in evoking the city in its particularities, as he did to varying degrees of success in Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream. Here, it might as well be Vancouver subbing in for New York. Gemma Jones does charming work as the matriarch of a family of wandering eyes. In the throes of a late-life crisis, her husband of many decades, played by Anthony Hopkins, has left her for a dim call girl (Lucy Punch) half his age, and Jones turns to a loopy fortune-teller for advice. Meanwhile, Jones’ daughter Naomi Watts, a would-be art dealer, and her American husband Josh Brolin, a struggling novelist, are having problems in their marriage, too. Watts is drawn to her handsome new boss (Antonio Banderas) while Brolin obsesses over an attractive Spaniard (Freida Pinto) who lives across the courtyard from them.
And so on. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger plays like an impersonal, no-stakes Husbands And Wives, where everybody cheats, yet the emotional fallout never registers. The cast seems lost: Brolin isn’t the most natural Woody Allen surrogate, and Hopkins appears positively victimized by the Sydney Pollack role of an intelligent, sophisticated older man who fumbles through a relationship with a vulgar, money-grubbing minx. And by the looks of it, Allen simply decided against shooting the last 20 pages of script, because most of the subplots end with a shrug or a question mark. It’s all loose ends, signifying nothing.