Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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      Directed by Woody Allen. Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and Penélope Cruz. Rated PG. Opens Friday, August 15, at the Park Theatre and the Cinemark Tinseltown

      The title of Woody Allen's latest comedy refers to two people and a place. For one summer, the Spanish city is home to levelheaded Vicky (Britain’s Rebecca Hall, playing Yank), who values security above all else, and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), no fan of caution in affairs of the heart.

      The catalyst in this Catalan haven is a roguish painter called Juan Antonio, and who better than Javier Bardem to play him? The painter is 40 going on 25, and his combination of brazen honesty and raw talent proves irresistible to the Ophelialike Cristina, but less so to Vicky, whose bullshit detector is permanently in the red. Nonetheless, the Americans join Antonio for a weekend with serious (and sometimes funny) consequences.

      In his Woody-less movies, the increasingly creaky writer-director has long striven to emulate the European filmmakers he so obviously admires. But the Ingmar Bergman shadow is absent here.

      Instead, the film takes an amusedly observational tone, with dry narration (from someone named Christopher Evan Welch) providing literary stitchery, as in some of Franí§ois Truffaut’s early pictures.

      You could almost call this Allen’s stab at a distaff Jules and Jim, but the main participants are younger and less developed as people, and the stabbing comes courtesy of Antonio’s ex-wife, a dangerously volatile presence provided by Penélope Cruz, having a blast.

      Some things don’t sit right. It’s hard to believe that Vicky, given her obsession with the country, would speak no Spanish, just as the painter’s insistence on speaking English with his ex smacks more of audience pandering than organic reality. And Johansson has yet to establish herself as much more than a decoration with potential.

      But this is the most thoughtful and satisfying Allen film in many years. The characters may be childish, but the movie is definitely grown-up.