A yuppie sports witer becomes overwhelmed by the desire to discover the identity of his adopted daughter's natural parents.
After Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway the lightening up of Woody Allen continues apace. This latest contains everything we have come to expect from the feverish director: the woes of modern relationships, an awkward clash of ages between Allen and his leading ladies, the Big Apple aglow in the camera's eye and those one-liners to die for, all delivered with the emphasis on good comedy rather than pounding commentary.
The formula twist is to pen this one as pseudo-Greek tragedy - events are punctuated with cut-aways to a Macedonian mount where a troupe of thespians in full costume, led by F. Murray Abraham, narrate the ongoing story in wiseguy New York blather.
The plot proper has yuppie couple Lenny (Allen) and Amanda (Bonham Carter) adopting a child who grows up healthy, intelligent and happy. Naturally, Allen's neurotic sports writer flips, becoming overwhelmed with the desire to discover who the child's natural parents are. As irony would have it, the mother turns out to be Sorvino's loveable, dim-witted hooker Linda who squawks like Minnie Mouse with laryngitis - the father could be one of many. Struck with paternal concern, Lenny takes it upon himself to act as fairy godfather to the swell-hearted girl undone by life, misguidedly setting her up with lug-headed boxer Kevin (Michael Rapaport).
Allen is, undoubtedly, one of the most astute and intelligent filmmakers about and, as ever, this brims with satisfying witticism ("I don't have an Achilles heel, I have an Achilles body," he whimpers when confronted with Linda's musclebound pimp) and telling observation. And in the twittering, busty Sorvino, Allen has coaxed a golden performance of humour and humanity.
The film's let-down is that Allen never reaches beyond himself. The crumbling marriage with the miscast Bonham Carter is a flagrant revisit to Husbands And Wives, and while there's mileage in Rapaport's befuddled pugilist, it soon turns patronising - you would have thought Allen above that - and the pat postscript of a finale shortchanges characters we've come to like. As good as this material is, the overall impression is of a great director just ticking over.