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Movie Review: #IrrationalMan

The newest Woody Allen dramedy arrives decidedly DOA.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Writer/Director Woody Allen's Irrational Man, the college professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lost soul whose sexual conquests have led him from one college to another. As a philosophy teacher, he's started to drink his own Kool Aid, ruminating about the meaninglessness of life and whether he should be a part of it anymore. Not even a new love interest in the form of one of his students (Emma Stone) can keep him from playing Russian Roulette at a college party. But when a chance to even life's odds arrives in a murder plot against a judge, Abe embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will see him and Jill wrestling with the biggest moral questions imaginable.

If that sounds like it could be a good time, believe me it's not. Irrational Man is boring from the moment it arrives with Allen's trademark dull opening title cards. It never rises to a boil, even as Abe's murder plot is exposed. The conversational style feels like a stage show, which never delves very deep into the characters he's crafted. Abe's suddenly murderous tendencies don't feel genuine and not even funny as was probably intended. The sharp wit of 2014's Magic in the Moonlight - which also starred Stone - is utterly drained from Irrational Man; even Allen's usually trademark musical score is just a jazz riff repeated at different speeds throughout the picture. But more importantly, Irrational Man just follows boring people doing excessively boring things until something interesting happens that doesn't change their personality, nor give us any idea of how it ultimately affects them.

Irrational Man can't decide if it's sketch comedy, a dark murder mystery, or a stinging criticism of man and the evil to which even smart people can succumb. More closer, it feels incomplete, as if the story was an idea in Allen's head, actually made real by the power of his name. It drags on through worthless dialogue that questions people's motives while doing nothing to entertain. It takes the question of ethics and pours cold oatmeal over it, surrounded by some of the worst performances from our leads in recent memory. Phoenix feels like he's on autopilot here, his paunchy stomach somehow a source of intrigue among the women at the college where Abe works, while Stone is not believeable at all as a naive co-ed. This is Stone's second disappointment in a row, with Aloha, revealing that even a worthy actress like herself can choose a couple of turds along the way to what will be a great career.

But it's Allen who seems the least able here, his conversational style that won him an Oscar for Annie Hall nearly 40 years ago merely duplicated. Allen seems like he's merely employing the same old standards in the hopes some of it might stick on the wall long enough for an Oscar run. I sure that doesn't happen. There's a lot of exposition, most of it violating our simple request to show - not tell - a story. It becomes such a drag to the resolution that other smaller things I could have forgiven stand out. There's so many scenes of Phoenix and Stone contemplating life near water that I immediately began to think about stepping out pee, then never coming back. And as the story leads to its somewhat surprising conclusion and frankly awful ending, I wish I had listened to my bladder.

Irrational Man enjoys a love-hate relationship with critics, and I'd advise you to read several reviews to get a more balanced picture. If after that you still feel compelled to hurt yourself, don't say I didn't warn you. Its boredom will either make the independent moviegoer feel a vengeful glee for all the loud Summer fare, or could drive mainstream moviegoers to never see another original production again. If you're interested in Allen, rent the hilarious Magic in the Moonlight, but keep away from Irrational Man. It's truly awful.

Irrational Man is Rated R for some language and adult content and has a runtime of 96 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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