Victor Bello/TWC
Javier Bardem and Rebecca Hall star in Woody Allen's comedy-drama "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA — ** 1/2 — Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall; with English subtitles (Spanish dialects); rated PG-13 (sex, vulgarity, profanity, violence, slurs, brief drugs, nude photos)

The title of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" refers to a pair of American tourists named — as you might have guessed — Vicky and Cristina, who are visiting Barcelona.

Those characters are played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, respectively. And they're probably the least interesting thing about this comedy-drama, the latest feature from screenwriter/director Woody Allen.

While that does detract from the film, this is one of the more interesting things Allen has done of late. Tonally, it definitely feels more European than anything he's made — even more than some of his other, recent European film ventures. And there are a couple of characters and performers that make the movie interesting as well.

One of them is Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem, from "No Country for Old Men"), a charismatic painter who meets and then becomes determined to seduce both of the young American women.

Vicky, who's engaged to marry the dependable but rather blase Doug (Chris Messina), succumbs to Juan Antonio's charms first. And then she spends the remaining weeks of her Spanish vacation obsessing about their encounter.

In the meantime, Cristina has begun a serious relationship with Juan Antonio, and even moves in with him. But that becomes strained when his troubled ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), comes to stay with them.

Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe ("The Others") and his crew capture some beautiful images of the scenic Spanish locales. And Allen makes good use of appropriately subdued Spanish music.

Speaking of subdued, Johansson's performance verges on sleepiness. Hall ("Starter for 10") at least seems to be trying, even if she has some difficulty with Allen's stuttering dialogue rhythms.

However, Bardem and his current, off-screen partner, Cruz, are both electric. When they're on-screen, the film really comes to life.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is rated PG-13 for simulated sex and other sexual contact, some suggestive language and references (slang), scattered profanity, some domestic violence (an attempted shooting), derogatory slurs and language, brief drug content (pharmaceuticals), and glimpses of nude photos. Running time: 96 minutes.


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