I’m old enough to remember when “catching the new Woody Allen” helped define the movie-goer as a certain frisky, witty, urbane intellectual, as sure as subscribing to The New Yorker and keeping the fridge stocked with Perrier. These days, Allen reliably churns out films, but they mostly provide opportunities to wonder why.
This latest is a comedy that mashes up existentialism, philosophy, campus hi-jinks, a teacher-student romance and a murder. A depressed, self-pitying philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself rejuvenated after committing said murder (while, of course, backing it up with lots of philosophical claptrap), and thus, becomes open to the affections of two women. One is his bright-young-thing student (Emma Stone), the other, a battle-hardened fellow professor (Parker Posey).
It seems as if Irrational Man was intended to be a satire, molded into the form of a mid-century Hitchcock thriller, but it’s so darn enervating when it should sparkle and/or sting. Phoenix, Stone and Posey have proven to be nimble with cutting material, but here, their performances are flatly serious. It’s never as painfully bad as last year’s period misfire, Magic in the Moonlight, but that’s a low bar. The way one might reach for an old New Yorker when there is nothing else to read, Irrational Man feels like the default, if not wholly satisfying, choice of movie-goers who want to see something this August that isn’t a cartoon or super-hero film.