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6 reviews, 14 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Well, That Was One Short-Lived Comeback"
2 stars

When Woody Allen’s “Match Point” came out last winter, it was hailed by critics and audiences as a thrilling return to form for a once-brilliant filmmakers whose output over the last ten years had veered between mildly amusing retreads likes “Small Time Crooks” to embarrassing misfires like “Anything Else.” Unfortunately, in what may go down as the shortest comeback since Burt Reynolds squandered his post-“Boogie Nights” career boost, “Scoop,” Allen’s latest film, is a dreary, dated and depressing comedy that is an unfortunate return to his recent form.

It starts off amusingly enough as recently deceased Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), an ace investigative reporter for a top London newspaper, is sailing down the river Styx to his final destination. Along the way, he chats up a fellow spirit and she claims that she was poisoned by her boss, the wealthy and politically connected playboy Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), because she suspected that he might be the Tarot Card Killer, a fiend currently stalking British prostitutes with short, dark hair. If what she says is true, this is the story of a lifetime (and beyond) and Joe jumps overboard in an effort to make it back to the corporeal world in order to follow it up. Eventually, his spirit makes contact with Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an American journalism student spending the summer with friends in London, and he implores her to follow up on the lead.

With the help of shabby American magician Sid Waterman (Allen), Sondra decides to pose as an aspiring actress and worm her way into Peter’s life and heart in order to prove his guilt and score a journalistic scoop that will make her career. This becomes more difficult for her to do as she begins to genuinely fall for Peter and becomes convinced that someone as sweet and charming as him could never possibly be a killer. And yet, the bodies continue to stack up and Sondra has to decide whether to follow her heart or her head in regards to Peter–if she accuses him and he is innocent, she risks losing the love of her life but if she doesn’t and he isn’t, she runs the risk of losing her life period.

In the past, Woody Allen has spoken at length of his admiration of the films of Bob Hope and one can see his influence in many of Allen’s flat-out comedies. Watching “Scoop,” I was reminded of Bob Hope movies as well–unfortunately, I was thinking of the sad and desperately unfunny ones that Hope was churning out at the end of his career in which he sleepwalked through increasingly tired plots while spouting off painfully dated one-liners. Once the cutting edge of film humor, Allen seems to have fallen into a similar rut and, for the most part, is merely offering weak variations of jokes that he told three decades ago–he still seems convinced that merely uttering the phrase “dental hygienist” alone is good for three or four laughs. The jokes get so trite after a while–at one point, Allen’s character even says that he likes being in London despite the language problem–that I wouldn’t be surprised if the DVD contained an additional soundtrack featuring nothing but rim-shots.

An even bigger problem with “Scoop” is the undeniable fact that the basic story of the film is perhaps the weakest thing that Allen has ever put on paper. The underlying plot–is Peter a killer or not?–is so thoroughly undeveloped that it becomes impossible to care even the slightest bit whether he is or not. Even a trifle like the vaguely similar “Manhattan Murder Mystery” at least demonstrated a certain narrative drive and an interest in following its mystery conceit to its conclusion–here, Allen seems as bored with the proceedings as we are and wraps them up in such an arbitrary manner that I am still a bit confused as to who actually did some of it. The characters are equally uninteresting as well. Johansson is one of the smartest and most alluring young actresses around (as “Match Point,” her previous collaboration with Allen, demonstrated) but she is forced here to play a character who is supposed to be a big journalism student but who is such a dim bulb that she has apparently never heard of Jack the Ripper. Jackman, though visibly relieved to be appearing in a film in which metal blades probably won’t be springing out from his knuckles, does little more than stand around and smile blandly–he seems too lifeless to be convincing as either a possible serial killer or a studly lover. As the intrepid reporter from beyond the grave, Ian McShane gets a few big laughs early on but is otherwise wasted (and it is weird to see the foul-mouthed icon of “Deadwood” delivering PG-13 dialogue.)

The worst performance–indeed, the single worst element of “Scoop”–is the grating and throughly annoying work turned in by Allen himself, a performance so obnoxious, abrasive and laugh-free that he all but sucks the air out of the room every time he appears. What makes his appearance especially annoying is that there is no real excuse for the character to exist–certainly not to the degree that he does–in the first place and he just winds up further weighing down a screenplay that is already too flimsy for its own good. The nicest thing that one can muster about his appearance is a brief sigh of relief that he decided not to cast himself as a potential romantic partner for Johansson’s character.

“Scoop” may not be the worst film of Allen’s long career–it doesn’t quite reach the depths of “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (though it is telling that the fake name Sondra chooses to use while trying to meet Peter is “Jade”)–but it may be his most disappointing, especially coming on the heels of a triumph like “Match Point.” In that film, Allen went outside his comfort zone in order to tell a story unlike anything that he had attempted before and it seemed to reawaken in him the vitality that made him one of the most consistently inventive American filmmakers of the 1970's and 1980's. Instead of building on that, Allen has returned to the kind of lazy hackwork that has marked most of his recent output and the result is a story that should have been spiked long before it reached the screen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14889&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/28/06 00:06:08
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User Comments

8/09/20 Anita Niser I thought it was a lot of fun. One liners that were old seemed new again hearing them ag 3 stars
11/10/15 David H. A very funny mystery comedy. 4 stars
6/18/12 Monday Morning Never thought Scarlett was a very good actress - this proves it. 2 stars
3/19/10 Jay Moonskip Truly abysmal -- Allen himself is the worst element 1 stars
8/03/08 Samantha Pruitt if you've never seen a woody allen movie, this is a good starter, pretty funny even still 4 stars
12/01/07 mr.mike Maybe not his best , but still enjoyable 4 stars
1/23/07 Christopher A huge Woody Allen fan, it's a great addition to a great director. Alot of fun. 4 stars
12/17/06 Monday Morning Allen is his own worst enemy here -- his dithering character doesn't work at all. 3 stars
11/23/06 Caiphn Decent from beginning to end. Acting a little weak, wouldn't say it was lousy. No twist! :D 4 stars
8/08/06 Mansi Dido No way as good as Donner's 'Superman', but then, what is? 3 stars
8/02/06 Ole Man Bourbon Fun movie. Don't understand the negative reactions. 4 stars
8/01/06 joe 1st (and last) Allen film.Great directing-lousy acting 3 stars
7/30/06 Heather Woody fans will see it anyway, full of very funny one-liners and anecdotes 4 stars
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  28-Jul-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Nov-2006



Directed by
  Woody Allen

Written by
  Woody Allen

  Woody Allen
  Scarlett Johansson
  Hugh Jackman
  Ian McShane
  Kevin McNally
  Robyn Kerr

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