Movie review by Greg Carlson

Only the most devoted Woody Allen fans are likely to find any joy in “Scoop,” the latest movie from the prolific filmmaker. Like his previous release, “Match Point,” “Scoop” utilizes many of the same crew members, leading lady Scarlet Johansson, and a London setting – not to mention a preoccupation with murder among the very well-to-do. Where “Match Point” was somber, intelligent, and often thought-provoking, “Scoop” tries to be madcap and zany. Instead, it is slack and devoid of any apparent ambition. It is not Allen’s worst film and neither is it a total bomb, but it is a far cry from masterful titles like “Annie Hall” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Allen’s enthusiasm for Scarlet Johansson is creepily implied in the movie’s opening, in which Johansson’s beautiful college journalist ends up sleeping with a much older film director she’s trying to interview. Our heroine, named Sondra Pransky, is naïve, bumbling, and not likely to win any Pulitzer Prizes. In a somewhat strained chain of events, Sondra befriends “Splendini,” a crotchety old magician whose actual name is Sidney Waterman. Allen, whose appearances in his own movies usually take one of two forms: the self-deprecating but sophisticated intellectual or the self-deprecating but uncouth lout, opts for the latter this time.

During one of Splendini’s performances, Sondra is selected from the audience to help out with a “dematerializing” trick. In the magician’s cabinet, she comes face to face with the spirit of recently deceased newspaper veteran Joe Strombel (Ian McShane, given merely a fraction of the scenes he deserves). From beyond the grave, Strombel has come into possession of information that might reveal the identity of the “Tarot Card Killer.” Even more astounding, if Strombel’s tip is correct, the murderer is none other than dashing nobleman Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman, dashing and noble).

What ensues is another of Allen’s spins on “An American Tragedy” (even down to the rowboat), as Sondra, now posing as “Jade Spence” woos and is wooed by debonair Peter. As Sondra becomes more and more romantically entangled, compelling clues begin to emerge that implicate the too-good-to-be-true beau. All the while, Sidney pretends to be Sondra’s father in order to aid the investigation. Along with a nod to Hitchcock involving a locked music room next to a wine collection, “Scoop” seems content to play out a largely familiar series of turnabouts and complications as it heads toward a predictable conclusion.

Johansson is as underwhelming here as she was gripping in “Match Point.” Mostly masking her sexy appeal by hiding her under large glasses and frumpy togs, Allen squeezes only a bit of mileage out of the couple’s onscreen banter. Moving from potential romantic partner to fatherly pal, Allen contents himself with some good-natured jabs at his “daughter’s” learning disabilities, etc. The one-liners inspire a chuckle or two, but nothing like the spectacular interplay of Allen’s better pieces. How long Allen will make films on British turf is yet to be seen (his next project will be made there), but many longtime admirers hope that a return to New York City might inspire another set of memorable films as Allen cruises past the forty movie mark.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/31/06. 

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