Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Romola Garai, Charles Dance, Anthony Head, Kevin McNally
Written by: Woody Allen
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running Time: 96
Date: 07/28/2006
IMDB

Scoop (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Drop the Presses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Seemingly reinvigorated by Match Point, Woody Allen has stayed on in London to make a second, career-refreshing film. And, like a fond nod toward the old Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow days, he has even re-enlisted a female star, the darling Scarlett Johansson. Best of all, the stinging, angry bitterness that has permeated his recent work (Celebrity and Anything Else were the low points) has all but disappeared.

In Scoop, Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, an American journalism student visiting London. She's a bit of a nervous scatterbrain; her hotel room interview with a famous director ends with sex (and no interview).

When she attends a magic show, the great Splendini (Allen) places her inside a booth to make her disappear. Unexpectedly, the recently deceased reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) appears to her with a tip: the son of a British Lord, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) may in fact be the infamous Tarot Card Killer, currently on the loose. Since the great Splendini, also known as Sid Waterman, has also seen Strombell's ghost, Sondra enlists his aid.

What follows is a kind of low-key romance/comedy/mystery, similar to the comforting old Hollywood movies that Allen so adores. But unlike The Thin Man, the mystery in Scoop is pretty easy to figure out, and the romantic angle is fairly routine; Sondra poses as an actress called "Jade Spence" to get close to Lyman. On the other hand, Allen winds up posing as "Jade's" father, which conjures up some funny moments as our nervous hero tries to remember his cover story.

As for the humor, Scoop contains quite a few of famous mis-matched one-liners, but sharper and funnier than they've been in quite some time.

Strangely, Allen has cast Johansson as another version of the "Woody Allen character." She's just as jittery as he is, but between them, they form at least one clear-thinking brain. They push each other into action. And whereas Johansson oozed sex in Match Point, here she's a big dumpy nerd, wearing clunky Capri pants and tennis shoes in place of slinky dresses and heels. (Jackman, ironically, is the one that has nothing to do but look gorgeous and refined in his expensive clothes.)

The other star of Scoop is, of course, London. Allen's camera lovingly records each building, street and garden as if he were back in the 1970s, making his first valentines to New York.

One of the most famous jokes in Allen's repertoire comes from Stardust Memories (1980), as admirers and reporters continually tell him how much they liked his "earlier, funnier movies." It's true that Scoop does not come near the greatness of Allen's masterworks (it doesn't even try), but it is definitely the best "earlier, funnier" Allen in decades.

DVD Details: Universal/Focus clearly dumped this one without much consideration. It comes with no extras at all, not even a trailer. (It does have optional subtitles.) And Woody Allen is barely featured in the package design. But for those few of us who enjoyed it, the DVD features a very nice looking transfer.

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