Take "Casablanca" which many consider the all-time great American "movie movie." Turn it upside down. And then reach in and pull it inside out. And you've got "Allied."
What used to be about a love that could never be fulfilled is now about love leading to marriage and a baby. Humphrey Bogart, as Rick Blaine, was a good guy hiding behind an impenetrable cloud of cynicism. Brad Pitt, is an equally hard-bitten pro with British intelligence but now it's his wife who is suspected of being a spy.
So think of every movie Ingrid Bergman made in the 1940s, re-framed and turned into "Allied" starring Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Just to add a little real-life offscreen scandal, the way Bergman did back then when she hooked up with director Robert Rossellini, this movie made its way into hypeville with news of Pitt's breakup with Angelina Jolie and the manufacture of very brief rumors of zero credibility about a real Pitt/Cotillard romance.
"Allied" knows what it's about. It's a World War II romance where the guns and the furniture really look like guns and furniture of the '40s. The romance is pretty good, notably because a little bit of post-'60s sex and nudity has been thrown in to remind audiences that movie stars have skin beneath their period wardrobe and hormones inside their skin. (Hitchcock always used to complain that he never liked costume pictures because he could never picture anyone in them going to the bathroom.)
In fact, a plausible nominee for Most Artful Mass Market Movie Sex Scene of 2016 is the scene in which Pitt and Cotillard inside a cramped Citroen outside of Casablanca are having at each other while a sudden, escalating desert sandstorm rages and whips around the windows of the car. It beats the bejabbers out of all that desert hooey in "The English Patient."
Let me confess that I'm a bit of a sucker for movies that do a fair amount of postmodern razzle dazzle with movie classics and as this one does, do so with uncommon creativity and all manner of new twists and turns.
When this movie even managed to take "Casablanca's" "Marseillaise" scene and find room for a dramatic Marseillaise scene of its own, I was permanently won over to its side.
No one heard me, but I muttered to screenwriter Steven Knight (who wrote the brilliant but little-seen "Locke") "nice work, pal. Very clever. Well done."
"Casablanca," of course, was a Hollywood movie through and through. Every inch of every set looked like a Hollywood studio movie set. In "Allied," the desert looks like the desert and Hamptstead, England, looks like struggling wartime England under attack.
Pitt plays Max, a cool, cynical, monosyllabic French-Canadian who works in British Intelligence. Cotillard plays Marianne, a member of the French Resistance whom Max meets in Casablanca where they are to pretend to be man and wife. There's a German to be assassinated and they're the ones to do it.
Which they do with nothing but panache. Very cool customers, these two.
She educates him in the local marital customs. For instance, husbands sleep on rooftops at night, after conjugal relations have been concluded. It's all reasonably suspenseful, especially when it has to be.
Love finds a way. Max's fellow British spies tell him wartime romances never work out but, hey, once you've had cramped sex in a Citroen during a sandstorm, you're ready to go your own way.
They go back to England just outside London and have as idyllic a life as possible in the middle of the blitz. Their baby, in fact, is born in the middle of an air raid.
Cotillard plays the 400-hp charmer of the two. She's lighting fast on her feet in every situation. Everybody loves her. She's the heart of every social situation. What's not to love?
True, she has earlier in Casablanca ( the city, not the movie), admitted "I'm very good at pretending" and has observed "being good at this kind of work is not very beautiful."
But Max still has trouble believing it when his colleagues in Intelligence tell him they're investigating her for being a spy.
Did someone say "let's see what happens when you mix Hitchcock's 'Notorious' with 'Casablanca'?'" Well, why not? Director Robert Zemeckis, remember, is the fellow who made "Forrest Gump" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" so he's an old hand at mix-and-match.
A movie like this rises and falls on star power. If you don't like the actors or believe in the chemistry, you're going to wish you'd stayed home. Pitt isn't much in the charm department here but there's a war on and, no matter what, panache, he's got. It's easy to believe these two might have had trouble resisting a quick hookup.
It's revisionist World War II romance. Feel free to resist it, if you must. For more enjoyment, just go with it.
Three stars (out of four)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Lizzy Caplan, Jared Harris
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Rated: R for language, sex and nudity, drug use and wartime violence.
Running time: 124 minutes
The lowdown: A British spy and a French resistance fighter fall in love in Casablanca, marry and return to England during the Blitz.