Textbook wit from Woody

you will meet a tall dark stranger
you will meet a tall dark stranger

WOODY Allen is 75, so is it any wonder that mortality is playing on his mind? Probably not. That’s why he’s directed a film about old people running away from the looming hand of death.

Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones play Alfie and Helena, an ageing couple who separate when Alfie has a delayed mid-life crisis and decides he needs to date younger women.

Lonely and credulous, Helena starts listening to an absurd fortune teller while their art-dealer daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) becomes infatuated with her boss (Antonio Banderas), at the same time her failed novelist husband (Josh Brolin) also begins to stray.

Brolin has the best line, jeering at his mother-in-law’s spiritualist fads, and pointing out that the only “tall dark stranger” she will meet is the same one that must eventually find us all – a grim wake-up call for anyone collection a pension.

A low-key ensemble dramedy set in London, it has some typically Allen flaws: it can be contrived, sometimes odd-sounding, like a script that has been translated into English by someone whose mother tongue is in fact a different European language.

Yet it is also inventive and speckled with ideas. Allen pulls at the ever-twisting tangle of human relationships with the help of an impressive cast of A-listers.

Not unlike previous films, his theme of choice is how we (badly) play the cards we are dealt, this time suggesting one’s destiny is more the result of one’s own ambitions, neuroses, passions and – as the title suggests – superstitions, than merely fate’s fickle finger.

Despite lurching at times into eye-roll-deserving stereotype (Lucy Punch’s gauche blonde gold-digger) it’s a gently comic affair which lays on thick irony.