Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The scoop on Woody Allen's 'Scoop'
The Scoop on Woody Allen
His 36th movie, starring Scarlett Johansson and himself, is a charm.
BY STEVE BLOOM
Scoop is a return to form for 70-year-old auteur Woody Allen. Like Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway, it’s a light caper, but with the London setting and Scarlett Johansson’s delightful performance, it’s one of Allen’s best movies in years.
Johansson’s slightly-daft journalism student Sondra Pransky stumbles upon a “scoop,” thanks to recently-deceased reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), who makes frequent appearances fresh from his new home in hell. She enlists Allen’s Sidney Waterson – a two-bit magician right out of Broadway Danny Rose – to be her co-conspirator investigating the “Tarot Card Serial Killer,” a murderer who knocks off women and leaves a card as evidence that he’s struck again.
They’re a great team. Eventually, Sondra anglicizes her name to Jade Spence and convinces Sid to come along for the ride as her kooky dad. Strombel has reason to believe that Peter Lymon (Hugh Jackman), the scion of an upper crust family, is masquerading as the killer. In fact, Strombel’s dead because he knew too much. Now it’s Sondra/Jade’s turn to unearth the truth about Lymon.
Breaking every reporter’s rule, she sleeps with her subject after first stalking him. Taken by the charming Lyman and no longer objective, Sondra/Jade begins to lose grip of her journalistic mission. Sid, meanwhile, shifts from a cynic (“this guy’s a serial killer like I play for the New York Jets”) to a muckraker who inspires Sondra/Jade to crack the case.
As Allen’s latest muse, Johansson (she appeared in last year’s Match Point) combines the dreaminess of Kim Novak with the pluckiness of Geena Davis. Her comic timing is a revelation as she goes toe-to-toe with longtime stand-up Allen. “I can’t wear contact lenses,” Johansson starts a quip, then delivers the punch line with gusto: “I don’t like to put my finger on my eyeball.”
More subtly, she inquires, “Jack the Ripper – is that capitalized?”
Of course, Allen saves the best lines for himself. Reprising his classic neurotic mensch who never stops talking – again, see Broadway Danny Rose – Sid’s a barrel of Borscht Belt laughs. All the jokes may not land with aplomb, but the sheer volume of witty one-liners are cause for celebration among Allen acolytes.
When asked his religious affiliation, Sid deftly tap-dances, “I converted from the Hebrew persuasion to narcissism.”
As usual, the target of Allen’s many barbs is effete WASP society. Like his idol Groucho Marx, he has little patience for gentility, chattering on endlessly with relatively rude observations that only Allen (or Groucho) could get away with.
Allen lays his comic cards on the table early in the film when he observes, “If more people had a sense of humor, we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in.”
Fortunately, Woody Allen’s in terrific shape as his splendid and smart Scoop amply proves.
PHOTO OF HUGH JACKMAN, SCARLETT JOHANSSON & WOODY ALLEN COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES
That visual stunt had me cracking up big time true to Allen's style.