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August 21, 2007

Filed under: movies»reviews»drama


In 2005, Woody Allen made Match Point. It surprised a lot of people, because it was A) not a screwball comedy, B) did not put Allen on screen, and C) was actually quite good (perhaps because of A and B).

I haven't watched a lot of Woody Allen movies, but I enjoyed Match Point. So I was looking forward to Scoop, his next film. Like its predecessor, it stars Scarlet Johansson, it is set in England, and it concerns itself with murderous aristocrats--but this time, it is a screwball comedy, it does include Woody Allen, and unfortunately it's not very good at all.

Scoop sets up Johansson as a college reporter on vacation in London who attends a magic show hosted by The Great Splendini (Allen), only to be visited by the ghost of an investigative journalist (Deadwood's Ian McShane) who says that a rich playboy (Hugh Jackman) is actually the Tarot Card Killer. Johansson teams up with Allen to uncover the story, while trying not to fall for the killer. If that sounds like a stretch, it's because it is.

At around 90 minutes, you wouldn't expect the movie to move slowly, but it does. I'd say that it's due to Allen's dawdling performance as Splendini, but the pace remains slack even when he's not on screen. When you've got a premise as offbeat as this, you really need it to be snappy to distract from the plot holes and the awkward story constraints, and Scoop is anything but.

It doesn't help that there's no chemistry at all between any of the three leads, making their actions seem disjointed. Allen and Johansson bicker amiably enough, but there's no real affection there, and I could never quite figure out why they were working together. Likewise, why Jackman and Johansson become involved is a mystery--and making Scarlet Johansson seem unappealing is an impressive feat. It's particularly odd, considering that in Match Point she was such a sexually-charged figure. Clearly, it wouldn't match the tone of the rest of the film for her to be a full-on seductress, but a little romantic tension is desparately needed. She and Jackman are boring together, if not a little creepy.

Hints of a better, funnier movie peek out from time to time in Scoop, which makes it all the more disappointing. There are some good lines here for both Johansson and Allen, even if they're lethargically delivered--she doesn't quite seem to get what makes them funny, and he's moving too slow for the one-liners to catch viewers unaware.

Sondra Pransky: I wouldn't be surprised if he asked me to marry him someday.

Sid Waterman: You come from an orthodox family, would they accept a serial killer?

It's a crime against casting that these aren't delivered well (they cry out for someone capable of a Thin Man-styled banter), not to mention the waste of McShane in a tossed-off role that's not much more than a cameo. Surely, there must have been actors better suited to play the roles of cub reporter, aristocrat, and vaudeville entertainer. The material's all there. It's just self-indulgently performed and shot. All of which is what I would have expected, not knowing any better, from a Woody Allen movie. That's the problem with making a Match Point and raising expectations. It becomes more disappointing when they're not met.

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