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Review: ‘Irrational Man’ Is Captivatingly Putrid

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What seems to be Woody Allen’s 900th film, Irrational Man, is reminiscent of a collection of sticky notes that, when you put together, don’t make much sense. You get the feeling Allen was cleaning out his production office and found these plot ideas he had written down, and decided to just put it all together and see what transpired.What transpired is an incoherent film, stumbling from beginning to end. Seeing this film was like watching a John Woo style slo-mo car wreck

Irrational Man is about a philosophy professor named Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), who is obsessed with murdering a judge, and Emma Stone as the student he romances.

The biggest problem with this film is the screenplay. Joaquin and Emma try to create characters you can relate to, and even develop some sort of empathy for, but the script keeps putting up road blocks. The script was written with 79-year-old New Yorker sensibilities; too bad Emma Stone is 26 and Joaquin Phoenix is 40. With this confluence of circumstances, the end result is a motion picture equivalent of Ambien.

Irrational Man

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Both Phoenix and Stone do their best with what they are given. Joaquin tries his damnedest to deliver line after line, playing the depressed Philosophical scholar, while trying to fend off the affections of his student, Stone. At times, you do see a certain spark on the screen, but then we fall into what I would call the “Woody Vortex”. The Woody Vortex is when you have onscreen voice-overs describing actions that just happened mere seconds earlier. It seems every time I thought we would have some sort of momentum, another voice over would pop off. It was an Irrational decision made by Allen, and contributed to the general malaise throughout the picture.

When faced with these daunting obstacles, it’s hard for even the best of actors to pull of a commendable performance. Stone’s performance is poor, flat out. Nothing she attempts on-screen comes across as believable, but the script didn’t do her any favors.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance can only be described as… erratic. He is supposedly this highly-regarded college professor everyone fawns over, and he is mired in regurgitating just how horrible his life has become.  Woody Allen expects us to believe these two characters are who they are supposed to be, and doesn’t provide either of them with enough material in the script to achieve that goal. It’s as if he thinks we actually give a damn about his characters just because they happen to be on the screen.

In the end, Irrational Man just keeps tripping over itself from beginning to end. From its lack of cohesiveness to a lack of a polished script ,this movie borders on unwatchable. I truthfully can’t think of anyone I would want to subject to 94 minutes of discombobulation. Irrational Man is one of the most captivatingly putrid movies of 2015.

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Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.