With his latest effort "Cassandra's Dream," it's becoming alarmingly official: Woody Allen is dangerously close to being the directorial equivalent of '70s Elvis. Self-important and self-indulgent, he's singing the same old songs over and over, with some flair but very little substance.
The third installment in his current British oeuvre, and the first with a strictly European cast, "Cassandra's Dream" tries to recapture the old "Crimes and Misdemeanors" magic, but like the King slurring the words to "My Way" in his final days it comes off forced and sloppy.
The tale of two Cockney brothers whose lifestyles lead them into crime, the film shoots for Dostoevskian heights while wallowing in London lows. Ewan McGregor plays Ian, the "flash" brother. Overly ambitious and overly eager to impress, he's a money-hungry schemer who is constantly living way beyond his means. When he meets vacuous actress Ashley Stark (Hayley Atwell), a girl with "wicked dreams," he must keep the cash flowing to breathe in her rarefied air.
Colin Farrell is Terry the "common" brother. A grease-monkey gambler, he has recently purchased a boat, the "Cassandra's Dream" of the title, with his dog track winnings. Feeling as if he's on a sure thing winning streak, this melancholy mechanic proceeds to lose an obscene amount of money in a poker game. With a wife to support and a life-threatening debt over his head, he is in trouble with a capital rubble.
Thus the stage is set for Allen's pseudo Greek tragedy to unfold. Enter stage left Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson). A mysterious icon of success within the family, Howard seems to be the answer to the brothers' prayers. Alas, it becomes apparent that Howie is not exactly a pillar of virtue himself and stands to lose his own shirt because of nefarious business practices. He offers the brothers a deal -- he will shower them with riches and all they have to do in return is a wee little favor ... let's say ummm ... murder a pesky colleague. They are family, after all, and the only ones he can trust. The way they deal with the situation and the aftermath of their actions form the moral crux of the film. Blood turns to poison and the brothers' fates are sealed.
The problem with "Cassandra's Dream" is that it is relentlessly tedious. Particularly coming after Sidney Lumet's excellent "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" last year, which dealt much less heavy-handedly with the same themes. Allen peppers his script with hints at philosophical depth, but it rings as hollow as some pontificating poser who just read "Nietzsche For Dummies."
Aside from Wilkinson, who infuses Howard with equal parts menace and desperation, the performances are equally tiresome and troubling. From their questionable Cockney accents to their nonexistent chemistry McGregor and Farrell are singularly awful. McGregor plays Ian like some jolly orphan in an off-Broadway production of "Oliver!" Apparently pleased as punch to be in an Allen film, one expects him to break into a little jig at any moment saying, "Sweep yer chimney, guv'ner?" Farrell, playing the downtrodden Terry, has too much of a twinkle in his smiling Irish eyes to be convincing.
"Cassandra's Dream" is a film that literally talks itself to death. This "dream" is an insignificant trifle masquerading as high drama -- its content forgotten once you wake up and leave the theater.