RATING |

Of all the movie settings from all the melodramas ever made in all the world, Robert Zemeckis had to open his hopelessly derivative WWII romance Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in Casablanca.

So, as the film started rolling, I swear I could hear someone in the background whisper, "Play it, Sam."

A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. …

And a tired movie cliché is just a cliché.

Shot in velvety-rich classic Hollywood style from an original – and yet so very unoriginal – script by Steven Knight (Pawn Sacrifice), Allied comes off like a highlight reel that mimics the look and feel of a whole school of great films, from Casablanca to Hitchcock's Suspicion and Notorious.

It's yet more proof that as time goes by, Hollywood just tells the same old story about the same two lovers and the same fight for love and glory.

Pitt plays Max Vatan, a Canadian fighter pilot turned commando, who is parachuted into the Moroccan desert to help the elegant French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) take out a high-value target.

Maybe I'm petty, but I couldn't get past the premise. Despite his youthful vigor, the 52-year-old Pitt doesn't strike me as a likely candidate for special forces missions.

Pitt and Cotillard have enough sex appeal between them to repopulate the Earth, so it's reasonable to expect a love story.

While they have good chemistry, the actors are hobbled by some seriously uninteresting banter. They just ain't very sexy – even when playfully discussing how dangerous it is for spies to fall in love during a mission.

But they do fall head-over-heels in love.

We know this because we're told so.

They get married, move into a nice house in London, and have a baby. But will their love withstand the ultimate test: What if one of them is accused of being a German spy?

Allied lurches from a ludicrous special ops thriller to a ludicrous romance to a ludicrous cat-and-mouse mystery.

Mind you, Allied isn't unwatchable. Certain bits really are quite fun – until you realize those scenes are supposed to make you cry, not snicker.

It's a reaction I've often had to Zemeckis' more grandiose films, including Forrest Gump, Beowulf, and Contact. This experienced director knows how to show you a good time --  after all, he's the man who gave us the Back to the Future films. But his more serious movies try so hard to be earnest through cheap sentiment that they come across as hokey.

Allied is no less phony. It's a tinfoil soap opera that tries to pass itself off as a timeless 24-carat story about love in a world caught on fire. Despite its grand gestures, it never leaves the ground. It has no vitality.