© 2006 Ray Wong
I admit I am not a big Woody Allen fan, but I enjoyed some of his earlier and recent films, such as last year's Match Point, which was also unlike anything he had done before. With Scoop, Allen stays in London, instead of New York, but settles comfortably back into his familiar style, including a major role for himself.
Sandra (Johansson) is an American journalism student vacationing in London. While participating at magician Splendini's (Allen) performance, the ghost of reporter Joe Strombel (McShane) appears before her. Apparently he's gotten a fantastic tip beyond the grave, indicating that Peter Lymen (Jackman), Lord Lymen's son, is the serial killer known as the Tarot Card Killer who has murdered a number of prostitutes around the city. He urges Sandra to investigate and expose the biggest story of her life.
With the help of her high society friends and Splendini (Sid Waterman in real life), Sandra manages to get close to Peter, posing as a naive actress named Jade Spence. Despite her suspicion, Sandra falls in love with Peter and becomes confused. The clues she finds point to Peter as the killer, but she can't believe such a charming, loving, extremely wealthy bloke could ever kill. Sid thinks otherwise and urges Sandra to be careful as her relationship with Peter becomes deeper and more dangerous.
Johansson (Match Point) once again plays a pretty, naive American girl. After her interesting portrayal as a temptress in Allen's Match Point, her performance here just seems phoned in and artificial, not to mention typecast. As usual, Allen (Hollywood Ending) plays himself, a neurotic, babbling, witty-in-an-irritating-way simpleton who's coerced into unlikely situations. He has some great lines, but his presence becomes grating after a while.
Jackman (X-Men: The Last Stand) gets to play a charming, privileged English gentleman and he aces it. Deep down you know you can't really trust the guy -- he's just too good to be true. However, I am not getting a lot of chemistry between him and Johansson, and that makes their romance rather forced. McShane (Deadwood) also has a fun time playing a dead guy obsessed with the story of his (after) life.
Written by Allen (Match Point), the story requires a huge suspension of disbelief. The supernatural nature of Joe Strombel's ghost sets the tone of the film early on. At times, it seems that Allen didn't really know whether he's making a comedy or a mystery. His own character's incessant babbling is amusing to a point; after a while, it becomes self-indulging, and I can't help but think, what does it have to do with the plot? In fact, part of the story involving Sid, especially near the end, could possibly have been cut out.
Scoop is a letdown in every way after the taut and psychological Match Point, with which we had a case study of how wonderful a writer-director can be if he would simply become transparent and fade into the background. However, with Scoop, Allen is everywhere, and the self-gratifying aspect of the film becomes a nuisance after a while. Granted, there is a certain whimsical aspect of the film that has the trademarked Woody Allen charm and wit. The dialogue is cute and lovely at times. But the plot is thin and predictable, the characters superficial, and the direction unfocused. The editing is choppy and there are minor characters that don't serve any purpose. I only ask: Is this the same writer-director who gave us Match Point last year?
Perhaps it's not fair to Allen. Perhaps we should simply consider this film for what it is, and stop comparing it with his other works. In that case, Scoop is an adequate entertainment. And here's the scoop: this is one of Allen's more juvenile undertakings, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, if we know not to have high expectations.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen, Ian McShane, Charles Dance
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running Time: 96 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 5
Production – 7
Total – 6.1 out of 10