Dancing Chic To Chic

Everyone Says I Love You IS WOODY Allen's 26th film--and his first musical. We all know, from those earlier flicks, Woody's taste in music, so the vintage soundtrack will come as no surprise: "Just You, Just Me," "My Baby Just Cares for Me," Cole Porter's "Looking at You," etc. The milieu may be 1990s Manhattan, populated with Allen's usual gaggle of Upper East Side, upper-middle-class guilty liberals, but the spirit comes straight from a '30s Hollywood musical. And so does the movie's modest desire to amuse us with a deliberately contrived tale of well-to-do folks falling in and out of love. "I'm Through With Love" is the movie's ironic anthem, sung at various times by Woody, Goldie Hawn, Alan Alda, Edward Norton and Natalie Portman--none of whom has any intention of giving up the chase.

When Allen's cast signed on, they didn't know it was for a musical. He wasn't looking for professional singers--nor did he get them. Julia Roberts is charming as an unhappily married woman Woody Allen tricks into falling in love with him, but no one is going to be casting her in "Tosca" any time soon. (Only Drew Barrymore's singing was dubbed.) Most of the numbers have a pleasant, no-fuss casualness. When Woody tries for something more showstopping--an uptempo song and dance performed by ghosts at a funeral home, or a Parisian black-tie affair where "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" is sung in French by a chorus in Groucho masks--you may want to wince.

Replete with romantic excursions to Paris and Venice, a swell cast and a warm, crowded sense of an extended New York family in which stepdads, ex-husbands and teenagers are always in each other's faces, Woody's latest is funny but seldom transporting. Never the most sensual of directors, he seems more interested in the idea of a musical than in the thing itself: when in one dance number Goldie Hawn literally flies through the air on the banks of the Seine, it feels more theoretical than exhilarating. A nice try, but not quite magic.