Vicky Cristina Barcelona

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January 27, 2009|By CHRIS KALTENBACH

Starring Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Released by the Weinstein Co. $28.95 (Blu-ray $34.95) *** 1/2

Who would have thought Woody Allen would find a new muse in Spain?

With Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen, that most American of filmmakers, the man who never seemed comfortable setting foot outside New York City, has made his friskiest, most delightful movie in more than a decade.

Not that any new territory is trod. Allen still is a chronicler of relationships that result in little genuine happiness; the human heart, he continues to insist, is the most vexing, inexplicable, insatiable of creatures, one humans trust (or even listen to) at their peril.

But this story of conflicting (and conflicted) hearts, set amid the architectural and natural beauties of Barcelona and its environs, is as light and winsome as Allen gets. Like such masterpieces as Annie Hall and Manhattan, it finds moments of precious light in the gloom, and acknowledges that the heart can be both wondrous and dangerous.

Vicky and Cristina (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) are American friends spending a summer in Spain. Vicky is all seriousness and responsibility, while Cristina cherishes spontaneity and risk. When the pair are approached by Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a charming artist with something of a violent reputation who asks them to spend the weekend with him at his home, Cristina can't wait to do it, but Vicky tries to talk her out of it. Still, she goes along.

Emotions flare, and romance isn't far behind. But it's all complicated, especially when Juan Antonio's sultry ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), shows up, fresh off a failed suicide attempt.

With such a handsome cast, it should surprise no one that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is far and away the sexiest movie Allen has made.

Other releases:: Sam Malone and the gang close the bar in Cheers: The Final Season (Paramount, $39.98); Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor are wartime lovers in Waterloo Bridge (Warner Home Video, $19.97).

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