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Case Number 20680

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You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Sony // 2010 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // February 10th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Mike Rubino is glad he doesn't have unnecessary narration.

Editor's Note

Our review of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (Blu-Ray), published February 7th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

"He left me for another woman…"
"A deceased one."

Opening Statement

Woody Allen has the uncanny ability of attracting the toppest-of-notch talent to be in his movies. So it is always a bittersweet occasion when one of his infamously incredible ensembles is wasted by a rushed script; such is the case with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Facts of the Case

Two couples, in different stages of their own troubled relationships, wrestle with doubts and insecurities in the upper-middle class world of London.

Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) leaves his long-time wife Helena (Gemma Jones) for a hooker (Lucy Punch). Helena, at the recommendation of her daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), begins to see a psychic. Meanwhile, Sally and her husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), are having troubles of their own: Sally is falling for her art gallery boss (Antonio Banderas) and Roy can't get his second novel published. Oh, and he's also falling for the girl across the street (Freida Pinto).

Each of these distraught characters has to choose between the life they have, and the life they think they want…and then cross their fingers that the fates will let everything turn out okay.

The Evidence

Woody Allen has been churning out a movie annually for some time now. As a devotee, I've reveled in the quantity despite the varying quality. As a film critic, this constant stream of half-hearted romantic comedies grew old a long time ago.

I can't shake the feeling that Allen made You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger as some sort of contractual obligation. That's the only way to explain its bland, thoughtless style, repetitive themes, and sloppy storytelling. Allen is responsible for creating many of the romantic comedy tropes we have today, and now he has become trapped by them. Tall Dark Stranger is like Husbands and Wives without the dark wit or harsh style; it's like Mighty Aphrodite without the creativity or inventiveness; it's like Match Point without the murder or suspense—it just happens to be set in London.

The film can only be described as "lazy." It's apparent from the opening shot: a detached, omniscient narrator starts setting the scene. Like in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he's both frivolous and unnecessary. He spews exposition that we don't really need—much of which is immediately apparent and familiar because Allen uses these situations in 95 percent of his films. The framing, the locations, and even the costumes are as plain and generic as can be. The narrator is working so hard to make us care about this cautionary tale of fate and bad decisions, but it never really clicks.

The incredible cast doesn't help matters. Surprisingly, many of the veteran actors come off as stiff and unrehearsed; Josh Brolin is the worst of the bunch. His facial expressions and line readings are so flat, I can't say he's even phoning it in. If there's a bright spot in the bunch, it's the delightful Gemma Jones. She's the most unique character of the bunch, and delivers the few one-liners that actually work.

The wooden nature of the cast isn't helped by Allen's insistence on sticking to laboriously long takes. The stiff camera slowly pans back and forth for minutes at a time while characters yell, discuss, drink, and pop pills. The complete lack of editing leaves the pace of the film on the actors' shoulders as they tread water with a half-baked script.

Even the worst of Allen's films have occasional bright spots. With Tall Dark Stranger, redemption comes with a subplot involving Roy stealing the manuscript of a fellow writer friend who was in a car wreck. That brief plot is so different and refreshing from the rest of the standard love triangle stuff that I wish it had occupied all 120 pages of the script. Instead, it's relegated to Allen's now standard treatment: an interesting idea that is tossed in there as a sidenote, not fleshed out, and left unresolved.

Tall Dark Stranger is likely to be a disappointment to all but the most forgiving Woody Allen fan. While it's natural for us to get our hopes up that he'll deliver another Match Point or Vicky Christina, we never have reason to get our hopes up for a decent DVD release: it will never happen. Per usual, the video and audio are serviceable at best, and the disc is devoid of any supplement or featurette. At least you can watch the trailer.

Closing Statement

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is sadly one of Woody Allen's lamest recent efforts. The story never gains any traction or differentiates itself from Allen's previous films. The acting is bland and the camerawork is tired. But the biggest, and most painful, offense of all is that the film just isn't funny.

For the casual viewer, this may be a slight bit of entertainment. For the Woody Allen fan, just wait a couple months until he makes another movie.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 90
Extras: 1
Acting: 78
Story: 75
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• English (SDH)
• French
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb

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