August 3, 2006


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Scoop (PG-13)
Woody Allen, nervous and timid like a still-partially-blind newborn puppy, dips the very tip of his pinkie toe back into the comedy pool with Scoop.

Like a garlic knot made from dough left over from the pizza crust, Scoop is an appetizer-like bit of snack food seemingly made from the scraps of scenery and bits of spare-time tomfoolery by the crew left over from Match Point. Only Scarlett Johansson carries over in the major-actor category but there’s plenty of familiar names behind the scenes and familiar places in the setting (London — both the bohemian and the upscale — and the rich British countryside). While Match Point represented a sort of best-behavior professionalism from Allen and company, Scoop (like its very name) is a more laid back, slangier affair.

Dropping the femme fatale-ness of that first Allen outing, Johansson here plays earnest glasses-wearing American Sondra Pranksy, a college student who is visiting friends in London and is attempting to score a story for her school newspaper. She attempts to interview a famous director, but accidentally gets drunk and sleeps with him instead. She’s particularly open to story ideas, even if they come to her by way of a ghost who appears during a magic trick. Sid Waterman, the great Splendini (Allen), picks Sondra from a crowd at a magic show and puts her in a “dematerializer” (a box with a false door). While in the box, she is visited by Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), a recently dead journalist who has stumbled upon a big story. Just after death (the boat across the River Styx is apparently half ferry, half cocktail party), he meets a woman who believes she was murdered because she was on the verge of proving that Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), the gentlemanly son of a lord, is the Tarot Card serial killer. Strombel, desperate to get the story to a living journalist, somehow finds Sondra and sets her on a screwball investigation to prove this ready-made-for-the-tabloids tale.

Sondra, who has Nancy Drew pluck without the Veronica Mars smarts, decides to go after the story and asks Sid for help in her investigation. He helps her tail Peter and, when introductions are in order, plays her father. Luckily for us in the audience, the only romance to develop is between Peter and Sondra, who goes back and forth as to whether he’s the killer depending on how lovey dovey he is with her.

Scoop is not a brilliant movie. It is not even all that impressive a followup to Match Point. But it is also not nearly as painful as the ghastly Hollywood Ending or any of those other pre-Match Point, post-Small Time Crooks Woody Allen comedies that seemed nothing more than slow death to a once impressive career. Watching Scoop is a little bit like spending extended amounts of time with your family — it’s aggravating and occasionally attention-trying but charmingly familiar and frequently endearing. Allen plays that particular, peculiar but ultimately caring relative with a refreshing mildness. Johansson, given the glasses and a somewhat poofier wardrobe, plays up her rather impressive goofball abilities and gives a performance that ought to have more people looking at her for their smart comedies. Her perky ponytail is a perfect bouncy, gum-snapping symbol for the made-on-a-lark quality of the film. After the chic presentation of Match Point, Scoop has a comfortable-jeans feel. C+

— Amy Diaz

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