Picks and Pans Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

updated 08/25/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/25/2008 01:00AM

Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz | PG-13 |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ROMANTIC COMEDY
Given Woody Allen's spotty track record of late, he should take a cue from the Saw series and start releasing his films on Halloween weekend. After all, he's now equally as likely to deliver audiences a trick (ugh, it's Anything Else!) as a treat (woo-hoo, we got Match Point!). Thankfully, he's armed with a luscious delicacy this year: Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The romantic comedy follows two friends—uptight, engaged Vicky (British actress Hall) and free-spirited Cristina (Johansson)—spending the summer in Barcelona. They meet a suave artist (Bardem), who brazenly invites them both into his bed. The women are drawn to him (though not at the same time), as is his emotional time bomb of an ex (Cruz), whose arrival ignites the film.

As was the case with Match Point, Allen's intoxicating, decidedly non-New York surroundings prove a bracing tonic for the writer-director, looser and lusher than he's been in ages. He coaxes splendid performances out of everyone, especially Cruz, who always does her finest acting in her native tongue. Her venomous clashes with Bardem are incendiary—and absolutely riveting.

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