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Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” could have used a little more moonlight; there’s a dashed-off, shorthand quality to it, as if everyone involved is going through the motions. That said, this pretty-as-a-picture comedy, set in 1928 in the exquisite south of France and starring the likes of Colin Firth, Emma Stone and Eileen Atkins, is no hardship to behold. But you watch it thinking of the effortless sparkle and wit of Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” and wonder why this one feels so flat, as if nobody cared enough to make a little magic.

Colin Firth, looking perpetually put-upon, plays Stanley Crawford, a confident fellow whose career involves dressing up as a Chinese conjurer and performing magic. A notorious skeptic of those who claim to practice real “magic,” he accepts a challenge given by a friend: to travel to the Côte d’Azur to confront and debunk a charming clairvoyant, Sophie (Stone). She is, however, so very charming and so very skilled that he begins to have doubts about his beliefs, and wonders what might happen if the supernatural truly exists.

And that’s pretty much it; you keep waiting for something unexpected to happen, and it doesn’t. Instead, you ponder the choice to costume and make up Stone to look even younger than she is (the age gap with Firth is a tad eyebrow-raising), and note how delightful it is to hear the way Firth pronounces “chicanery,” and wonder how on Earth a long conversation between Firth and the marvelous Atkins, near the end of the film, could possibly be as dull as it is. And then you just look at the pretty pictures and listen to the jaunty ’20s score, and wish they were in service to a better movie.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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