Take the template of 1972’s “Play It Again, Sam,” replace Woody Allen with a generic French blonde with lite love troubles and Humphrey Bogart with the maxim-dispensing Woodmeister (in poster form), and voila, you have “Paris-Manhattan,” in which debuting Gallic scribe-helmer Sophie Lellouche borrows Allen’s moves without displaying an ounce of his talent. This update-cum-ripoff might be aiming for witty and romantic, but it’s mostly a hollow, rambling effort leavened with some stargazing. eOne picked up Stateside rights and will have to pray for a subtitled miracle.
Though directed by Herbert Ross, “Play It Again, Sam” was based on Allen’s own Broadway play and is full of his trademark witticisms, of which Lellouche is no doubt a big fan. In fact, many of them are incorporated here, as a life-sized poster of Allen hands out advice in the man’s own voice (culled from different films).
The owner of the poster is Alice (Alice Taglioni), a flaxen-haired young woman ready to take over the pharmacy business run by her Jewish-French father (Michel Aumont). Alice has no man in her life yet, and she’s not helped by her older sister, Helene (Marine Delterme), who, in a prologue set an unconvincing 10 years earlier, is shown marrying the preppy, jazz-loving Pierre (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), even though Alice saw him first.
Things start to look up when, after attending a terribly dull party full of bourgeois nitwits, Alice shares the elevator with handsome security expert, Victor (actor-singer Patrick Bruel, effortlessly charming), and then winds up conversing with the gallant man, who insists on walking her home.
If this all doesn’t feel scripted and improbable enough, Lellouche has plenty more in store, including a cringe-worthy scene in which Alice allows a criminal who held her at gunpoint to run off, but only after giving him a couple of crime-themed Allen films to watch. (Cue the scene in which the two run into each other again and he’s a changed man.) Also simultaneously befuddling and predictable is a sequence in which Victor installs a chloroform-spraying security system in Alice’s pharmacy that inevitably ends up dousing the wrong person. A subplot involving Pierre’s suspected infidelity feels extraneous and goes nowhere.
Whereas the original “Sam” worked because Bogie was a moviestar archetype that the fully rounded Allen character could never live up to, in “Paris,” the only vaguely sane and relatable person is the poster. Alice is too vaguely conceived, lacking any particular need or drive; her search for a man feels like something imposed on her from the outside, as does her reliance on advice from anyone, much less a talking picture. Taglioni, bravely sticking to her line readings, can’t breathe life into this mess of a character.
Technically, the pic looks slick but not very coherent, with occasional use of tilt-shift lenses for no apparent reason. The jazzy score and credits lettering clearly mimic Allen’s work, further inviting comparisons the pic could never live up to. An uncredited but entirely unsurprising cameo appearance by the director himself is underwritten, though it’s clear from the twinkle in Allen’s eye that he’s secretly thinking, “I’m actually in a French movie!” Too bad it’s this one.