Woody Allen again does himself and his followers a world of good by having his new comedy in the titular Spanish city. He has that passionate flair back again after the mostly mediocre Scoop and Cassandra's Dream.
The very attractive romantic farce Vicky Cristina Barcelona, only notably hampered by the expository and schematic voice-over by Christopher Evan Welch, is easily embraced by a cast led by Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz. Allen's most commercial picture in a while provides them with the kind of line readings that recall memories of some of his better ones in his distinguished career spanning four decades.
A somewhat neurotic Vicky (Rebecca Hall, an English theatre actress seen in As You Like It) and Johansson's supple, wide-eyed Cristina have their summer mapped out for them. Vicky's older friends (Patricia Clarkson, Kevin Dunn) have graciously invited them to stay at their scenic Barcelona residence.
There's a connection between the two friends and Bardem's assured lightly bearded painter Juan Antonio, who, after meeting with them in an upscale eatery, wants the ladies to be with him for a pleasurable weekend. Engaged to an affable New York guy, Doug (Chris Messina), Vicky is hesitant, but the adventurous Cristina and the womanizing Juan Antonio win her over, and all get to know one another after flying to Oviedo.
Juan Antonio lets the ladies know of where he stands with former missus Maria Elena (Cruz, Oscar-nominated for the vibrant Volver), now living with someone in Madrid after stabbing him in a rage. The virile, yet hardly condescending Juan Antonio has Cristina move in with him as Doug pops up to ask Vicky to marry her in Barcelona.
Allen's best commercial picture since his departure Match Point lets Cruz (also very good in Elegy) heat up the proceedings as the colorful Maria Elena re-enters Juan Antonio's life. It allows for intimate combinations that should quicken the pulse of those watching, especially during a sharp red-tinted dark room moment. And, the complications of one of the title characters during the last act helps to make it quite wry and boisterous.
In both English and Spanish, Cruz is truly captivating through a variety of emotions, while Bardem is smooth as the lothario. Johansson works nice off of Cristina's opportunistic nature and Hall endows Vicky with much perception into her life.
VCB might just be enough from its tourism angle as Allen works wonderfully with his crew to highlight the city and its surrounding in a Mediterranean sheen in a sultry, humorous way that is like a breezy, comfortable summer day.