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. "Wonder Wheel"

Since 1966 Woody Allen has written and directed close to a movie a year, turning in a body of work going from unforgettable hits to duds and back. This one's not a hit but it will hardly threaten his legacy.

If there are acts in a filmmaker's career, "Wonder Wheel," taken with his Midnight in Paris," "Magic in the Moonlight" and other recent lightweights, it may be a sign that his mojo is in the last act of a prolific, oftimes brilliant career. We'll remember him for "Annie Hall," 2005's, "Match Point" and many others.

What's working against him here is the mix of genres. "Wonder Wheel" is as much stage play as movie. It echoes the tones and the speaking style of a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller stage tragedy/comedy. Less restricted in dialogue, movement and physical space than a stage play, it's nonetheless restricted by stylistic choice, coming forth as less than a film from the rich years in which Woody Allen related to his times and culture with satiric and comedic precision to captivate his audiences. It wasn't unusual to leave the theatre thirsting for the next Allen movie.

Those one-a-yearers were cinema lovers events! They were relished. But, on to the story...

Mickey (Justin Timberlake), a lifeguard on his lookout station above the crowd on the famous sands of New York's Coney Island, turns to the camera in a close up and begins his breathlessly important narrative introducing us to his story's characters and the general state of affairs on their way to scandal.

These consist of Ginny (Kate Winslet), housewife, mother, cook; outlandishly named Humpty (Jim Belushi); her oafish husband who makes a living operating the carousel and, at home, trying to stay off the sauce and playing the king. And, with, an air of impending disaster, Humpty's long-gone daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) who shows up out of a need to hide from her mobbed-up husband who misinterpreted something she did and put out a contract on her life.

This mixture will provide much in the way of passion and betrayal, while less in the area of sympathetic attachment or concern on which a tragedy depends.

Very striking is the commitment the actors bring to Allen's vision however alien the style of a fifties play that he demanded of them. The same could be said of all technical departments, cinematograpy by Vittorio Storaro ("Cafe' Society) with his shafts of light sparkling up the thick shadows of art director Miguel Lopex-Catillo's set and the contours of a face, all balanced against the monster Wheel dominating the sky line. But I think. despite the cast's dedication, it could be said that if this were the first film for them, it might have been their last.

Belushi, except for the needed hotheaded tension he could instill into an otherwise pastoral moment, is the least of the main acting talents on screen. This may have been the best work I've seen to date from Timberlake though the performance is far from saving the film from its mixed-genre mischief. And Winslet has the good fortune that the high regard in which she's held is absolute and unharmed. She tries hard, here, but the depth and credibilility isn't in the script.

It's entirely possible that it was the superb "Blue Jasmine" that gave Allen the idea he could do it again. He doesn't, but he's not coming off anyone's 50 (or 100) Greatest Auteurs. But, perhaps he should slow down and make sure he's got a solid final draft.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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