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Scoop Sags Under Weight of Allen's Self-Serving Script

  • Christian Hamaker
  • 2006 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
<i>Scoop</i> Sags Under Weight of Allen's Self-Serving Script

Release Date:  July 28, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for some sexual content)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  96 min.
Director:  Woody Allen
Actors:  Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Ian McShane

Last year,  "Match Point" re-established Woody Allen as a filmmaker of consequence, a director and screenwriter who proved he had not completely lost touch with the moral questions that inform his best work. The troubling but effective film grappled with questions of the conscience in the wake of moral transgression. Its answers were, on the surface, disturbing – a perversion of justice that seemingly allowed a guilt-ridden soul to become hardened in his disregard for authority and any sense of decency.

"Match Point" couldn’t have come sooner. Allen’s personal foibles had long since cast a shadow over his increasingly stale attempts at comedic filmmaking – the occasional Oscar nomination ("Mighty Aphrodite", "Bullets Over Broadway") notwithstanding. Does anyone remember Allen’s "Anything Else," from 2003? No? How ’bout "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"? Me neither. "Melinda and Melinda"? That was just last year!

So it’s somewhat surprising to discover that Allen has followed the triumph of "Match Point" with yet another light comedy, this one retaining "Match Point"’s London setting and that film’s lead actress, Scarlett Johansson, in a dialogue-heavy comedy that runs out of gas long before it reaches the finish line. It’s essentially two people talking, then three people talking – but it’s only fitfully amusing.

What sets "Scoop" apart from Allen’s other recent comedic attempts is a great performance – from the one actor who could be construed as even hotter these days than Johansson: Hugh Jackman. The "X-Men" veteran turns on the charm as Peter Lyman, wealthy son of an aristocrat and, according to a tip that reporter Sondra Pransky (Johansson) receives, quite probably the “Tarot Card Killer,” who leaves his trademark cards on the bodies of London prostitutes.

The tip about Lyman comes from deceased journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), whom we first meet on a boat captained by the Grim Reaper. Strombel, whose earthly life was cut short by a coronary thrombosis, chats up the other passengers during his journey to the Other Side, and in so doing hears evidence that Lyman is indeed the reputed serial killer.

Not eager to meet his eternal fate (“Where you’re headed, there is no first, only last,” one passenger tells him), Strombel jumps overboard and then appears to enterprising young reporter Pransky, whose interaction with Strombel’s spirit occurs during her stint as a volunteer participant in a magic show put on by the Great Splendini – stage name of Sid Waterman (Woody Allen).

Determined to break the story and make a name for herself, Pransky sets out, with Waterman’s help, to meet Lyman and lock down the facts necessary to publish the blockbuster allegations. But her journalistic objectivity will be sorely tested by the debonair Lyman, and her own willingness – expressed early in the film, when she sleeps with someone in a failed effort to garner an interview – to violate ethical standards in the pursuit of a story.

Johansson does herself no favors here. Her attempts at comedy aren’t painful, but neither are they clever. Allen’s script lets her down, but it also lets down Allen himself, who gives his nebbish character – the film’s least interesting – far too much screen time.

Better to give over that those valuable minutes to the charismatic Jackman, or the amusing McShane, who is sorely underused.

Scoop is most interesting once Jackman – whose character isn’t written to amuse – appears. Too bad, then, that the movie leans so heavily on comedy, which succeeds only intermittently, when it might have turned up the suspense and created genuine tension. Instead, we discover early on that the Tarot Card Killer’s victims are brunette prostitutes, and so have little reason to fear for the safety of the blond-haired reporter, Pransky. Danger does present itself late in the film, but it’s quickly resolved and the payoff is weak.

So here’s the “scoop.” Woody Allen just isn’t very funny anymore. Audiences discovered this long ago and have stayed away from his movies. "Match Point" forced a reconsideration of Allen’s ability to make compelling dramatic entertainment, but "Scoop" fails to build on that momentum, reminding us that even when he stumbles onto a good thing – in this case, Jackman and McShane – Allen is most enamored with himself, to the detriment of his films.

AUDIENCE:  Adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; various profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Some drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Sondra has sex with two professional contacts; she lies in bed with a lover, who comments on her performance in bed.
  • Violence/Crime:  Descriptions of murder victims, who are prostitutes; reckless driving.
  • Religion:  A spirit defies the Grim Reaper and temporarily avoids his eternal fate; the main suspect is known as the “tarot card killer” because he leaves tarot cards with the bodies of his victims; Sondra says she’s interested in New Age phenomena.