`Cassandra's Dream' is forgettable

January 24, 2008 11:34:08 AM PST
"Cassandra's Dream" is totally forgettable Woody Allen, a blip in a storied career, and a film that feels especially inferior when compared to "Crimes and Misdemeanors," which touched on some of the same themes and is one of Allen's best.

The third movie in a row he's set and shot in London, following "Match Point" and "Scoop," is also one of his darkest. Or at least it strives for darkness - there are repeated references to Greek tragedies, and while Allen is clearly aiming for that specific type of gravitas, he fumbles to find the right tone and never achieves suspense. (Philip Glass' typically insistent score signals early and often that everyone involved is doomed.)

But Allen does get some intriguing moments out of co-stars Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor as brothers Terry and Ian, who are so desperate to escape their working-class upbringing that they're willing to commit a murder for hire.

Farrell is especially good - he isn't afraid to be weaselly and pathetic and get a little dirty for his performance as a garage mechanic and gambling addict who's in over his head. McGregor is slicker and more nuanced - Ian is a little better at hiding his longings, pretending to be a hotel developer and borrowing classic cars to impress an actress (charismatic newcomer Hayley Atwell) who's out of his league but shares his ambition.

As the film begins, the brothers are on the verge of buying a boat they can't afford. But Terry is pumped up from a big win at the dog track, which inspires them both to make this financial leap. They christen it "Cassandra's Dream," the name of the winning dog. The purchase is the first in a series of bad decisions they will make.

Allen jumps back and forth between both men's attempts to scrape together a better life. Terry wins big, then loses big, at high-stakes poker games and dreams of buying an apartment with his girlfriend (Sally Hawkins); Ian meets with real estate honchos and visits the seductive Angela, his new girlfriend, at the theater.

The promise of a visit from their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson, always solid), a plastic surgeon who's moved to Los Angeles, gives them both hope. But Howard needs something from them, too, which gets them even deeper into trouble.

Allen doesn't seem to be judging these people for their ruthlessness or materialism. He just doesn't seem to care very much about them. He seems to be saying, it doesn't matter whether you're a good person or a bad person - destruction is certain, and the universe is indifferent. Such nihilism isn't exciting, it feels halfhearted.

"Cassandra's Dream," a Weinstein Co. release, is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence. Running time: 105 minutes. Two stars out of four.