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Woody Allen’s ‘Whatever Works’ Doesn’t

In "Whatever Works" it's hard to know where Woody Allen leaves off and Larry David begins. Not that it's a good thing.

The main character and Allen surrogate, played by "Curb Your Enthusiasm'''s David, is Boris Yelnikoff, a doom-and gloom-mongering curmudgeon who flies into fruitless tirades with the greatest of ease. While Allen created Boris, the disgruntled intellectual David plays is a close cousin to his misanthropic TV character. But nothing about this doppelganger is likable, or even interesting. In fact, Boris is aptly named: He bores us.

"Whatever Works" is one of the least engaging movies ever by the prolific Allen, a real disappointment after the charms of "Vicky Christina Barcelona." It's as distasteful as "Barcelona" is appealing.

The premise feels dated, a retread of such Allen works as Manhattan or Deconstructing Harry. It's a rehashed tale of a beautiful innocent, Melodie St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) who falls for a jaded and screwed-up older man.

To make things even less likely, Boris is initially so nasty to Melodie that he comes across seriously misogynistic.

At least when Allen plays the part of the older man lusted after by gorgeous twentysomethings, he has some modicum of charm.

But Boris is merely foul-mouthed and narcissistic. Despite the presence of such talented actors as Patricia Clarkson as Melodie's mother, the film founders.

One of Allen's worst missteps is having Boris address the audience directly by looking into the camera.

He's like a one-man version of the Greek chorus in "Mighty Aphrodite," but his gimmicky and bombastic addresses take a viewer out of the already thin story.

The dialogue, especially his diatribes, is arch and awkward, rarely witty. Boris is awash in finicky observations and nay-saying, but he lacks the pithy humor to take the edge off.

Melodie is even less believable than the churlish Boris. A runaway former beauty queen with a thick Southern accent, she appears outside his New York apartment and begs Boris to take her in.

Didn't she ever learn not to talk to strangers, much less go into their homes and eat their food? Within days she's head over heels.

She finally wins Boris over, ostensibly with her sweet disposition and inherent goodness. The irresistible charms of the innocent beauty is a recurring Allen theme. But rather than coming across redemptive or even quirky, their relationship and its four-decade age difference is just creepy, its power imbalance anachronistic and implausible.

One would think Allen had worked though his on-screen fascination with the older man-young girl scenario by now. This latest exploration just feels derivative and musty.

Allen is like a miner doggedly re-combing every inch of the Manhattan landscape for comic gold. Woody, please: Go back to the European locales that so energized you of late.

Rated PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, brief nude images and thematic material

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