By Shawn McKenzie 07/30/2006
Reporter Joe Strombel (Ian Mcshane) is a famous man who always gets his story. Unfortunately, he recently died while researching the story of the century about the rich and handsome Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), whom Strombel suspects is the “Tarot Card Killer.” This serial killer usually targets brunette prostitutes and leaves a tarot card at the crime scene, and he considers the man the most notorious killer since Jack the Ripper. While riding on a boat captained by Death (Peter Mastin) and floating on the River Styx, Strombel meets Lyman’s personal secretary named Jane Cook (Fenella Woolgar), who says that Lyman poisoned her. Since he can’t investigate the lead himself, he jumps into the water and tries to find someone to help him. Meanwhile, Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an American college student looking to find her first big scoop in London for her college newspaper, stays with her rich British friend Vivian Malcolm (Romola Garai) and goes after a famous director named Mike Tinsley (Kevin R. McNally), hoping to get a story. Sondra sleeps with Tinsley, but she doesn’t get a story out of him. She decides to go with Vivian to see the stage act of cheesy vaudevillian magician Splendini, a.k.a. Sid Waterman (Woody Allen), to relieve her frustrations and just take a break. After doing a few card and flower tricks, Sid selects the prettiest girl out of the audience to be his volunteer, and that pretty girl just happens to be Sondra. She has Sondra get into the “Dematerializer,” which is just your standard disappearing act box. While in the box, Strombel appears before her and attempts to give her the scoop of a lifetime about Lyman. He knows that she is a reporter herself (even though she wishes she had been a dentist), so she would appreciate the scoop. She is freaked out, and she comes back the next day to see if she can get Stromboli to come back in the box. Sid doesn’t think that it will work, but Stromboli appears before both of them, which convinces them to team up and follow up on the scoop. Through Vivian’s high society connections, Sondra gets her and Sid an invitation to a private party being thrown by Lord Lyman (Julian Glover), Lyman Jr.’s dad. She poses as Jade Juilliard Spence, the wealthy actress daughter of Mr. Spence, a.k.a. Sid, who is an affluent businessman that happens to like doing card tricks. After checking Lyman out in person, she wants to get to know him better, while Sid doesn’t think that he could possibly be a killer. She goes to Lyman’s club while he is swimming and pretends to be drowning so that he will save her. When he “rescues” her, he sees her in her very flattering “Baywatch”-like red bathing suit and he is immediately attracted to her. They start dating, and she begins to fall for him. Since she is becoming blinded by love, it is up to Stromboli to appear before Sid a few more times to help her get the scoop.
After making one of the best movies of his career with last year’s Match Point, I knew that Woody Allen would be back to his old ways. Scoop brings the Woodman back into the foray, but he is treading on familiar ground.
Let’s start with the thing about Allen’s movies that I’ve become accustomed to seeing. First and foremost, the person in the lead…which, in this case, is Johansson…does “The Woody.” If you are familiar with Allen’s movies, you know that the person who is in the lead role ends up acting like him when he isn’t doing it himself. Allen will always play the nervous, nebbish intellectual character (which he does here as well)…but I find it funny that the actors around him start doing the same thing. That was the great thing about Match Point…if you didn’t know that Allen had directed it, you’d swear that it had been directed by another person, since no one did “The Woody.” Johansson may be in this movie as well, but “The Woody” is in full effect. I will say that Woody has never been hotter-looking than when being portrayed by Johansson.
Next thing would be the plot. I didn’t mind it, because Allen has always been fascinated with murder mysteries, including the ones in 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1992’s Shadows and Fog, 1993’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, and even Match Point. Some people might be sick of them, since almost all of them are fairly predictable. I’m going to give him some slack though, since the mystery usually takes a backseat to the funny, and the funny is in good use in this movie. I did find it odd that, once again, Allen has used the gag of being caught in a closet/storage room. He did the same thing in 2000’s Small Time Crooks. I happen to like Crooks a lot, and I thought the gag was funny in that movie. Here it just feels like a recycled bit.
Now for the good things about the movie that I liked. The most important thing is that Allen finally doesn’t make his leading lady his love interest. Being that Allen is 70 and Johansson is 21, he would be stretching the bounds of credibility way too far. I’m sorry, but just giving Johansson some glasses and some Allen-like mannerisms can’t disguise her mega-hotness. In fact, the glasses actually turn her into a geek’s fantasy girl. Jackman being 37 himself might be a little bit of a stretch, but he has always been good-looking, whereas Allen hasn’t been good-looking since he was a staff writer for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” in the 1950s.
As for the rest of the cast (the “rest” being essentially Jackman and McShane), they did a good job for the small roles they played. I read in the production notes that Allen had never seen any of Jackman’s movies (he hasn’t seen the X-Men series?) or his role in the Broadway production of The Boy from Oz, and he had never watched McShane’s role in HBO’s “Deadwood,” but he liked them both for the roles that they played. Jackman has played several roguish bad boys in the past, so he played his part well. McShane, whose part was even smaller than Jackman, manages to be funny in every scene he’s in (or at least the opening scenes.) I know that he has been around for over 40 years, but this the first high profile he has been in since his breakout role in “Deadwood,” so every role he is in from now on will be met with a critical eye. He managed to pass the test in this movie.
Scoop is funny bottom line…but so have most of Allen’s films. With Match Point, we saw something that was unlike any other of his movies. This movie sinks back into the old groove…like a comfortable old shoe. I guess that “comfortable” is better than “bad.”
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