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Though Woody Allen’s last movie, “Matchpoint,” was a dark psychological thriller, Allen is still most recognized for his unique brand of screwball comedy. Allen once again throws together eccentric characters, mix-ups, and mayhem in his latest effort, “Scoop,” but this time with only limited success.

“Scoop” involves Sid, a neurotic has-been magician (Allen); a ditzy American journalism student, Sondra (Scarlett Johannson); and Peter Lyman, a wealthy British playboy (Hugh Jackman ), who may or may not be London’s infamous Tarot Card Killer. When Sondra attends Sid’s magic act and becomes an unwilling volunteer in one of his tricks, a recently deceased journalist magically appears before Sondra to give her a clue about who the Tarot Killer is. The overeager Sondra realizes this is her chance to make a name for herself by solving the murder and “scooping” all of the newspapers with the story.

“Scoop” is a long way from vintage Allen, as Allen himself hinted at in a recent interview. The biggest problem with this movie is not so much the convoluted story–because that is part of Allen’s charm as a storyteller–but the miscasting of both Jackman and Johansson in the lead roles. Johansson is not quite believable as a goofy co-ed who ends up having sex with every man she tries to interview, and Jackman is not nearly dastardly enough or charming enough to play the roguish Peter. However, Allen’s classic deadpan timing as Sid never fails, and he consistently delivers the best lines of the film over and over again.

So even if “Scoop” will probably not make the cut in a Woody Allen film retrospective, Allen’s performance in the movie reminds me that even mediocre Woody Allen is superior to a lot of comedies that try to do what Allen has been doing with artistic ease for decades. And in a summer full of films that are big on special effects and small on substance, “Scoop” is still a refreshing treat.

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