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Kate Winslet

“WONDER WHEEL” My rating: C-

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Spare me the bad drama,” cheating housewife Ginny (Kate Winslet) moans to her complaining boyfriend late in Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel.”

Funny, but those are exactly the sentiments of the audience watching the film.

Visually splendid but dramatically inert, “Wonder Wheel” plays like an idea plucked from Allen’s reject pile. About all it’s got going for it is a sense of time and place.

Set in Coney Island’s famed amusement park in the 1950s — and filmed by Vittorio Storaro with a near-Technicolor glow — this tale of an unfulfilled woman’s last chance at romance is a self-pity party of the first order. It’s one of Allen’s periodic attempts at straight drama…and as is usually the case when he blows off any semblance of humor, it’s a hard slog.

Winslet’s Ginny is a 39-year-old former actress (apparently she was limited to one-line roles) now married to Humpty (Jim Belushi), the big-bellied, balding operator of the Coney Island carousel.  They live in an apartment over a shooting gallery; their marvelous view of the nearby Wonder Wheel is undermined by the constant din of gunshots.

Early in Allen’s script the couple are visited by Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), who married a mobster, divorced him, sang to the feds and is now on the run from her ex’s murderous associates. She begs for Humpty to take her in.

Carolina’s arrival coincides with Ginny’s affair with a much younger lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake).  Mickey is one of Allen’s more impossible creations, an aspiring playwright who talks like a college freshman in the first throes of intellectual pretentiousness. And boy, does Mickey talk.  He’s the movie’s narrator, telling us what’s going on even as we’re watching what’s going on. Timberlake can do nothing with the character.

“Wonder Wheel” focuses on Ginny’s emotional and moral disintegration after learning that Mickey and Carolina are canoodling on the side. Her shrilly-expressed angst and jealousy are so altogether off-putting that not even Winslet can make her anything but irritating.

Allen is here clearly inspired by the Fifties New York dramas of Arthur Miller and William Inge (“Come Back, Little Sheba” especially), but those plays transcended their protagonists’ moral and intellectual shortcomings.

“Wonder Wheel” doesn’t come close.

| Robert W. Butler

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