The movie simpers along until she deigns to appear: drunk, battered, surreally sexy. Penélope Cruz's María Elena obliterates everyone and everything on screen, and she does it with the natural superiority of a true comedienne. In her performance, English is the comedy and Spanish the drama. The linguistic enmity is a thing of explosive beauty: she is at odds with herself and the world. (Her savagery of English gives her added nobility). Woody Allen writes and directs her as some kind of mythical Mediterranean goddess - a wild thing of the Barcelona forests - living on the edge of the civilized world. But Cruz gives her relevancy. In the movie's best scene, she tears apart her prey - the meek American tourist played by Scarlett Johansson - limb by limb while nonchalantly spouting impossibly racist remarks and predicting the weather by sheer force of instinct. Her vitality is a double-edged sword: it renders the rest of this passable dramedy irrelevant. She seems to be Woody Allen's ideal of the Artist-Muse, but Cruz turns this joke of a character and her own excruciating English into works of art. This bilingual contradiction is a creature of our times.