Scoop (United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Woody Allen fans were thrilled when his 2005 feature, Match Point, signaled a return to form for the respected director. That, as much as anything, fueled anticipation for Scoop. There were reasons for optimism. The film, like its predecessor, is set in England. Also, like Match Point, the star is Scarlett Johansson. Alas, Scoop proves to be a disappointment - a return to the uninspired pre-Match Point era that nearly choked Allen's career. A blend of lackluster comedy and lazy plotting, the film feels a lot like bad Hitchcock.

Sondra Pransky (Johansson), a college journalism major, promises to get her school paper an exclusive scoop while she's on vacation in England. Her first goal is to interview big name movie star Mike Tinsley (Kevin McNally), but she ends up sleeping with him instead of capturing quotes. The next day, while participating as a volunteer in the magic show of Sid Waterman (Allen), she has a vision of dead investigative reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), who gives her the likely identity of the Tarot Card Serial Killer. After convincing Sid to help her, she contrives to meet Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), the son of Lord Lyman (Julian Glover) - and the man identified by her non-corporeal tipster as the murderer. Predictably, as Sondra gets closer to Peter to uncover evidence, she loses her objectivity. Soon, she's head-over-heels in love with a man who may be a killer.

So why does Woody Allen insist upon pairing Scarlett Johansson with suave but potentially unstable men?

Unlike Match Point, which was played straight, Scoop is intended to be a comedy. That it has about as many laughs as its precursor is a bad sign. Occasional one-liners have enough wit to provoke chuckles, but a surprisingly high quotient of jokes fail, audibly and obviously (the sound "thud" comes to mind). With Allen's penchant for humor having deserted him, we are forced to pay more attention to the contrived and transparent mystery plot. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny, and there are aspects - like the inclusion of the ghost - that are so clumsily integrated that their presence is an embarrassment.

It is interesting to note that Johansson, one of today's most talented young actresses, has given two of her weakest performances when working for Allen. She was uneven in Match Point, and that trait is in evidence in Scoop. She begins the film like a female Allen impersonator, using his runaway vocal style and nervous mannerisms. As the movie progresses, she becomes more relaxed, settling into the character, but the polish of her acting during the later phases does not compensate for her initial irregularity. As her love interest, Hugh Jackman is low-key. He's handsome and debonair, but doesn't bring much else to the production.

From an acting standpoint, Allen's biggest misstep is in casting himself. It wouldn't be fair to call this a "performance," since Allen always plays a version of himself. In some films, this works. Here, it's a distraction and an irritant. The character of Sid is annoying and there's a sense of relief when he's not on screen. Sadly, Allen the writer/director has given Allen the actor a sizeable part, so those moments of respite don't come often enough. I wanted the character of Sid Waterman to die - the earlier, the better.

Irrespective of its various flaws, the most shocking aspect of Scoop is the absence of humor. Even Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World had more to offer in this department. Perhaps Allen has lost touch with what audiences find funny. Match Point proves he can still craft a compelling motion picture, so I choose to believe the desperation evident throughout Scoop is the result of a man working with the wrong screenplay. The comedy is flat, the mystery is flatter, and the drama couldn't be leavened with a whole packet of yeast. Time will tell whether Match Point or Scoop is the aberration, but recent evidence suggests a disquieting verdict.

Scoop (United Kingdom/United States, 2006)

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen, Ian McShane
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Cinematography: Remi Adefarasin
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2006-07-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1