Woody Allen goes latin (you heard me), and the romantic, richly comic result — powered by a dream cast — is his sexiest movie ever. Shooting in Spain has loosened up the Woodman. You want plot? Two American girls, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), spend the summer at the Barcelona hideaway of Vicky's pals, Mark (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (the ever-glorious Patricia Clarkson). No sooner do the girls spot Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a bedroom-eyed painter, than he's hitting on both of them. So far, so predictable. What sparks the movie is Penélope Cruz as Maria Elena, the painter's ex-wife, a fireball given to strong emotions — hell, she once stabbed Juan Antonio during an argument. You haven't lived till you've heard Cruz and Bardem trading Woody Allen one-liners in Spanish. They're so ferociously funny you won't even need the subtitles. ardem, spinning 180 degrees from his bad-haircut villain in No Country for Old Men, is charm personified. And watching him switch tactics to tempt the luscious, pliable Johansson and the resistant, engaged Hall is a lesson in the art of seduction. But watching Cruz, switching between Spanish and English, untamed passion and chilly despair, is a lesson in the art of acting. Oscar-nominated for Pedro Almodóvar's Volver, Cruz should have the golden boy at her feet this time. Whether she's (whoa!) planting hot kisses on Johansson in a darkroom or shedding light on her own secret pain, Cruz is a stunner in every sense of the word — wild, erotic, quick-witted, touching and possessed of a beauty that can sneak up and break your heart. In this light-comic breeze of a movie, Cruz is a gathering storm.
From The Archives Issue 423: June 7, 1984