Woody Allen’s recent scripts, yes, even the revered Match Point, are so lightweight the pages must just float up into the air. His latest is “Scoop,” no relation to the Evelyn Waugh comic novel about journalists, just a weak, stale, uncomfortable rehash of some of his favorite recurring themes. There is the stage magician (see Curse of the Jade Scorpion, New York Stories, his play “The Floating Light Bulb”), the amateur sleuth (Manhattan Murder Mystery), the corny vaudevillian (Broadway Danny Rose), the contrast between the New York Jew and the WASP-y world (you name it), the young girl as repository of all wisdom and overall life essence (Manhattan, Husbands and Wives). But instead of variations and new insights, all we get are are whiffs, references, patchwork.
It is the story of a college student who gets a tip from a ghost on a career-making story — a handsome, wealthy nobleman may be the mysterious serial killer who, like Jack the Ripper, has been murdering prostitutes in London.
Scarlett Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, an American journalism student visiting a friend in London. We first see her foolishly allowing herself to be seduced by someone she hopes to write about, then being so flustered she forgets to get the interview.
But when she volunteers to go on stage during a magic act and is ushered into the cabinet where she will “disappear,” the ghost of a brilliant, adventuresome reporter who has recently died (played by “Deadwood’s” Ian McShane) comes to tell her that on Charon’s boat to Hades, he has learned the identity of the notorious serial killer. He believes it is ultra-eligible bachelor Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). This is the scoop of a lifetime.
Who does she enlist to help her get the proof? The dear friend she is visiting (the underused Romola Garai)? A professional journalist? A detective? No, she calls on the magician with the cabinet for no other reason than that he is played by writer/director Woody Allen. Sondra gets him to pretend he is her father. They grow to like each other. Oh, and his act, which would have seemed amateurish and out of date in the days of Major Bowes, always has a sold-out crowd applauding wildly. Is this a movie or just a hit parade of self-indulgent fantasies?
From the moment Sondra and the magician join forces, character is continually sacrificed to convenience, as everyone behaves so inconsistently you’d think they were getting script pages seconds before filming. People are smart or dumb, brave or scared, close or distant, honest or insincere, depending on the most arbitrary of motivations. This would work if the result was funny or insightful, but it isn’t. There are some good wisecracks and a couple of promising set-ups, but the whole thing starts off wobbly and then spins completely out of control to an awkward, even disturbing conclusion. Like the character he plays, Allen’s shtick has worn out its welcome.
Parents should know that the movie has some sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. Sondra makes some risky and foolish choices in terms of her sexual relationships and her physical safety. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. The story includes (off-camera) murders, attempted murder, and accidental death.
Families who see this movie should talk about the choices reporters must make in pursuit of a story. What did the editor find inadequate about Sondra’s story and why? What do reporters have to do to be fair to those they write about? How can you maintain objectivity if you get close to your subject?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, Broadway Danny Rose, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Bullets Over Broadway.