Call it "Match Point" for Allen

After a string of movies that were critically panned and commercially ignored (Anyone remember "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion?" Anyone? Anyone at all?), Woody Allen is back with "Match Point," a noir-ish, engrossing film about the dark side of luck with decidedly more body and darkness than his recent offerings.

When the audience meets Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) he's a fading tennis pro who, after pulling himself up and out of Ireland by the bootstraps, is calling a middling career quits. A few key points and therefore matches — Chris tells the viewer in a voiceover — separated him from greatness; now he's applying to be an instructor at a posh London tennis club looking down the barrel at a future of helping arthritic old money work on its groundstrokes.

Chris' chances take a drastic turn (for better? Or for worse?) when he befriends his student Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), the affable son of a wealthy family. Chris and Tom's friendship is barely a lesson old when Tom begins ingratiating Chris to the Hewett family and fortune — he immediately invites him to the opera, and thereafter to various dinners, plays and weekends in the country. In no time at all, Tom's father has offered Chris a job, and mousy Chloe Hewett (Emily Mortimer) has fallen in love with him.

Of course, such a rosy existence can't last forever, but it's definitely a consolation to Chris that the wrench that inevitably gets thrown into his string of lucky breaks looks good in a white linen sundress. Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) is Tom's fiancée, but from the moment she makes her entrance in said garment, she and Chris do little to resist their near-magnetic attraction to one another. Soon Chris finds himself jeopardizing a posh life among the Hewetts with a relationship with Nola. To reveal more about the plot would be to give too much away, but the movie's tagline — "Temptation Passion Obsession" — is a fair indicator of its turn of events.

Moviegoers looking for the champagne fizz of "Annie Hall" or the comical neuroses of many Allen characters should look elsewhere. In its darkness and subject matter, "Match Point" is a decidedly un-Allen-esque film. And while it's not masterpiece, it's not a shabby source of entertainment either.

Apparently riding the current waves of appetite for love triangles and dirty secrets that have carried the likes of "Desperate Housewives" to the top, "Match Point" invests heavily in Chris and Nola's affair. Rhys-Meyers and Johansson don't let Allen down — they provide the passionate, heedless affair this movie needs to have at its core — and, in turn, Allen never misses a chance to showcase their physical attractiveness. Rhys-Meyers, Johansson and Mortimer all turn in sound performances and the film's pleasing visuals and juicy story lines relieve it of any dull moments.

That said, "Match Point" has its soft spots. One is a dogmatic adherence to the script. A dinner table scene, for example, was acted with an appropriate sense of conviviality, but the dialogue was unsuitably stiff and heavy. And, though it's clear that Chloe will fall in love with Chris (this movie doesn't shy away from certain obvious conclusions), she was still forced to make doe eyes at him in the darkened opera box. A different director, perhaps a younger one not so self-consciously aware of his own history, would've gotten rid the doughy dialogue and let Mortimer express Chloe's infatuation in a subtler, more appropriate way.

Unfortunately, Chloe's painfully obvious doe eyes are only one symptom of this film's pervasive blatantness. In one scene, Chris is dressed in all black as he talks surreptitiously to Nola on his cell phone while other picnic guests, including Chloe, are dressed in all white and are bathed in sunshine. Sure, noir films never place subtlety very high on the list of production values, but when a movie essentially hits its viewers over the head and says "Look! Look!" in an effort to get its messages across, something is gratingly askew, if not outright wrong.

Overall, "Match Point" fulfills its destiny — it's a piece of entertainment worth the price of a ticket but not a candidate for Allen's highlight reel.

Grade: B