-By Doris Toumarkine

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Woody Allen patrons of late are of two distinct camps. Some go with the auteur’s flow—his familiar shtick, neuroses, obsessions, prejudices, elitism and unapologetic hormonal bent—and embrace his skill, humor and ability to pack his oeuvre with the truly gorgeous and talented. Others, however, groan at the same old, same old on Planet Allen, where the privileged, gifted and beautiful party on (or transgress) as they efface all signs of the real world beyond.

Allen has every right to play in his glossy world of plenty, and who can fault the notion of movies as entertainments that provide a parallel universe of escapism we all deserve? But Allen’s eye-pleasing and superficial cinematic pit stops, as evidenced by Vicky Cristina Barcelona, are growing repetitive.

Keeping much intact except for eye-popping scenery and local color, Allen transposes his beloved, moneyed Upper East Side to lovely and moneyed Barcelona. In these more sensual climes, he conjures up a battle of the sexes between male and female and visiting Americans and native Spaniards. The tale begins with the arrival of two young American women—the practical, recently engaged Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and the creative and adventurous free spirit Cristina (Scarlett Johansson)—for a summer holiday in Barcelona.

Their theoretical home base is the lavish home of expats Judy (Patricia Clarkson) and husband Mark (Kevin Dunn), apparently Vicky’s distant relatives and apparently with their own battles. But when the new visitors sample a little of Barcelona’s gallery and restaurant scene, they arouse attention and other things in hunky artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who, just divorced from the tempestuous and unstable artist Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz), makes the Americans an offer they ultimately accept.

Thus, Juan Antonio sweeps the ladies away in his plane for a long weekend of fine dining and, hopefully, lovemaking in the provincial town of Oviedo. Vicky, set to be married, initially balks at such an impetuous offer from the handsome stranger, but ironically becomes Juan Antonio’s first conquest after Cristina is felled by a bad case of food poisoning. Cristina catches up with a vengeance to the extent that she moves in with Juan. But Vicky is smitten, a state clarified by the arrival of her singularly un-exotic fiancé Doug (Chris Messina), a likeable hedge-fund drone into money, bridge, golf, and a new home somewhere on the Bedford/Greenwich axis.

In spite of her yearnings for Juan, Vicky goes forward with her marriage. The Vicky/Cristina friendship survives the Cristina/Juan romance, but it’s hardly clear that the romance will survive the arrival of the stormy Maria Elena into the couple’s midst. Juan insists Maria Elena share their quarters, as she’s just emerging from a breakdown and hospital stay. Thus, a Barcelona threesome blossoms and the two women bond. As Cristina tells Vicky, they also go lesbian for a bit. (Allen indulgingly interjects this brief voyeuristic scene from nowhere.)

The film, hugely abetted in its third act by Cruz’s fiery, crackling presence, winds down from here just as the Barcelona summer vacation winds down for the main characters. Ultimately, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, with Johansson often mouthing Allen-like lines, delivers to diehard fans of both the veteran’s films and The Travel Channel.

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