July 26, 2006
The Good The Bad The Ugly
A somber bit of vindication for those who thought Match Point wasn't actually a career resurgence, Woody Allen's Scoop once again finds the Woodman trapped in a cultural time warp. Not only does the movie feature reference points that might have seemed dated 30 years ago — a character wishes she could use her feminine wiles, "like Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell" — but it stars Scarlett Johannson as a woman who, thanks to her glasses, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Mia Farrow.
Like Match Point, it's set in London, where, in Allen's purview, the social hierarchy has gone unchanged since Dickens's day. "They have a class system," he says at one point. "He's an aristocrat and we're commoners." It's not entirely clear that he's being facetious. Playing Sid Waterman, a touring magician from Brooklyn, Allen gets in a few good lines; he also grants his character riotous applause for magic tricks that wouldn't impress a sixth-grader.
Sid is only a supporting presence in Scoop, which like Match Point (and Manhattan Murder Mystery) incorporates a crime story. Johansson stars as the unfortunately named Sondra Pransky, an American student journalist living in London. Sondra volunteers to go onstage at Sid's magic show, and while being "dematerialized," she gets a visit from the ghost of recently deceased journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane).
Joe, whose credentials as a reporter are established in a Broadway Danny Rose-style roundtable at the beginning, claims that the well-known socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is secretly the "tarot card" serial killer. It's a tremendous scoop, although probably not the sort of scandal that Londoners have gotten much of since, say, the Thatcher era. Allen's screenplay might well be the work of someone who once took the city's Jack the Ripper tour and never got it out of his head.
Insinuating their way into Peter's exclusive athletic club, Sondra and Sid act like father and daughter in order to meet him, then manage to bumble their way onto one of his guest lists. Occasionally amusing sleuthing ensues. There are a number of good recurring gags, particularly the one involving Sid's inability to shut up while conversing at parties. (Accounting for blathering about a fox hunt: "I like to talk to these people in their own terms.")
Sondra begins to fall for Peter in an ostensibly torrid romance that seems far less consequential than the one in Match Point. On the whole, the tone is dismayingly broad — closer to that of Allen's stolid DreamWorks comedies (Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion) than it is to that of charades like Bullets Over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite. On the late-Allen scale, Scoop qualifies as mildly engaging, moderately arrhythmic and instantly forgettable.
Allen has said he originally intended Scoop as a tribute to dogged journalists, but surely no one he had in mind could possibly be as dogged as he is himself. Allen could easily have taken some time off after receiving accolades for his last film, but his movie-a-year regimen — as reliable as projection dots — persists, even when his ideas don't. It's a foolish but not ignoble way to make movies. Who knows, Allen may yet make another good one.