Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Running Time: 96 minutes
A reporter named Strombel (Ian McShane) has died with his last scoop unfulfilled: he thinks he knows the identity of a serial killer targeting sex workers across London. Somehow, by way of a dematerialising trick being performed by a two-bit stage magician called Sidney Waterman (Woody Allen), Strombel manages to 'contact' a fellow journalist to pass on this precious tip. But the colleague in question is a young American, Sondra Pranksy (Scarlett Johansson) whose only experience is of the college newspaper variety. Embroiling the reluctant Sidney in the adventure, Sondra sets about investigating her prime suspect, a good-looking aristocrat named Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). Needless to say, high jinx ensues.
If you're a Woody Allen fan - as I most assuredly am - you'll be in hell. Lines that would once have worked fall flat, the plot creaks wearily along and some of the most basic tenets of filmmaking - hiding exposition, maintaining a consistent reality - are casually overlooked. It's like getting a peek behind the curtain (the psyche?) to see how it all works, like finding out that Oz is just a guy: interesting but ultimately depressing. If you're not a Woody Allen fan you'll be in a different kind of hell so, either way, 'Scoop' is a losing proposition.
Scarlett Johansson soldiers on as the plucky, badly-dressed Sondra (alias Jade Spence, don't ask) and, as the sort of actor capable of projecting charisma even with very little to work with, comes out relatively unscathed. At times there is real camaraderie between Woody and Scarlett, the sort of nutty friendship that's too rare in films, and we catch a glimpse of what 'Scoop' could have been ('Annie Hall' meets 'The Hardy Boys'?). Sidney knows he's too old for anything romantic with Sondra and, thank goodness, so does the screenplay. These two are just cronies and they bicker and tease each other in quite a fun way. It's a shame they have to do it within the context of such a thin story. This film's ideas about investigative journalism are laughable to say the least and its depiction of homicide makes 'Murder She Wrote' look like Shakespeare. Meanwhile, the London setting is used to scant effect, beyond some stand-up material about driving on the wrong side of the road and the like.
Most of the actors seem ill at ease. Hugh Jackman is utterly stuffy and absurd as the supposedly charming Peter (son of Lord Lyman, as is endlessly reiterated), making us feel creeped out when we're supposed to be seduced. Woody Allen as Sidney has too much to do here and, sad to say, just doesn't pull it off. Even his best lines don't surprise and somehow his timing is never quite right. Why not give more of the burden to Scarlett? At least she's offering something we haven't seen before and manages to actually make some of the dialogue work. That said, the problem is not so much Woody's acting as that the sort of frothy comedy he's aiming for needs better jokes and much more sophisticated characters. On the other hand, 'Scoop' could have gone darker, into drama territory, and might have been quite interesting also. Write this one off as a learning experience.
Rating : **