Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 11/30/06 14:22:34

2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“Scoop” is the sad, sad, sad result of Woody Allen becoming so enamored with his “Match Point” star Scarlett Johansson that he’s willing to write a desperately awful comedy around her just so he can put her in a scene in which she wears a bathing suit. Sure, hooray for Woody Allen for allowing us to watch Scarlett Johansson run around in a bathing suit, but his blindness to the fact that she’s completely incapable of handling the screwball comedy tossed her way - thus resulting in one of the year’s worst performances by a major star - is all too depressing, as is the complete lack of workable comedy throughout that causes the movie to sink like a brick.

Now, I’ve always been willing to cut Allen some slack; I even went so far as to really enjoying “Small Time Crooks” and “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” far more than everyone said I had any right to do. But with “Scoop,” Allen manages only a few rare moments of charming one-liners before disappearing under the rubble of an ill-conceived mess of a movie.

Intended as a lighthearted whodunit romp on the level of “Manhattan Murder Mystery” (or, at least, “Jade Scorpion”), “Scoop” begins with the death of a prominent London reporter (Ian McShayne) who, on the boat ride across the river Styx, discovers the identity of a serial killer; unwilling to let a hot story like that go, he cheats death and appears in ghost form in front of Sondra Pransky (Johansson), a bumbling American journalism student visiting England. As the apparition took place during a magic act by Sid Waterman (Allen), aka “Splendini,” the bumbling American magician gets wrapped up in solving the case, too. Ah, but the supposed killer is not-bumbling British socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), who quickly woos Sondra, whom he believes is a fellow socialite named Jade.

If all of this doesn’t make much sense, be warned: it fails even more in actual movie form. None of the separate elements connect, and the wildest gimmick - the ghost storyline - is so mishandled and underdeveloped that it never clicks, not even once. As such, Allen resorts to dumping the idea repeatedly throughout, so much so that if it were removed entirely, nobody would bat an eye. The actual murder mystery itself eventually collapses under a third act revelation that winds up completely negating the entire reason for the original premise. (Avoiding spoilers, I will only say that what one character says at one point winds up being wrong, but if it were wrong, she would be unable to say it. It’s a paradox Allen’s sloppy plotting quietly overlooks.)

What Allen lacks in plot, he hopes to make up for in charm and wit, namely in the combination of his trademark one-liners and a tone that hopes to duplicate the manic charisma of classic screwball comedies. The former earns a minor chuckle here and there, but usually results in painful flops. Example: “Excitement in my life is dinner without heartburn afterward!” (Yawn.) The latter earns nothing but groans, with Johnasson providing a (purposefully?) stilted performance that grates on the nerves from the first scene. Here, she’s supposed to be a blundering doofus (“Jack the Ripper… is that capitalized?”) whose stuttering ways are supposed to mirror Allen’s own notable quirks. That’s right: in “Scoop,” we get to see Scarlett Johansson’s interpretation of what Woody Allen would be like as a sex kitten, which is as mind-numbingly awful as it sounds.

The movie does manage to pull off a few quaint moments here and there. Jackman is thoroughly watchable here as the smooth-talking ladies’ man, even if his role is utterly empty. Allen’s character may be insufferable elsewhere in the film, but on stage, as Splendini, his kid-friendly magic/comedy act is cute; Sid works his stage banter into his everyday life on occasion, and it’s one of the few gimmicks in the screenplay that actually works well.

So that’s two things in a ninety minute comedy that click. Everything else is a dreadful bore, a woeful misstep, or both. “Scoop” is a dud of a movie on all levels.

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