Scarlett Johansson as Sondra Pransky
Hugh Jackman as Peter Lyman
Woody Allen as Sid Waterman
Ian McShane as Joe Strombel
Romola Garai as Vivian
Kevin McNally as Mike Tinsley
Fenella Woolgar as Jane Cook
Jim Dunk as Orator
Jody Halse as Bouncer
Suzy Kewer as Splendini’s assistant

Directed by Woody Allen

Part murder mystery, part romance, and all comedy, “Scoop” returns Allen to familiar schtick-laden territory, making it apparent how much better his movies are when he appears on both sides of the camera.

Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) might be the worst journalist ever, sleeping with her interview subjects, often before getting the interview. When she volunteers for a magic trick done by the “Great Splendini” (Woody Allen), she is contacted by the ghost of investigative journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), who tells her that the Tarot Card Killer plaguing the city is actually aristocrat Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). With the help of Splendini AKA Sid Waterman, Sondra tries to find proof so that she can break the biggest story of her young career, although she’s started to fall in love with Lyman herself.

It’s no surprise that Woody Allen became so enamored with England and Scarlett Johansson while making “Match Point” that he’d write a movie for the young actress, once again set in London, but it’s nice to see him returning to comedy and playing a role himself, because let’s face it, it’s just not a Woody Allen movie without him. “Match Point” was such a departure from Allen’s norm that it couldn’t really be compared with his extensive filmography. Not so “Scoop,” which owes as much to classics like “Annie Hall” as it does to later duds like “Curse of the Jade Scorpion.”

As odd as it sounds, “Scoop” is both more and less high concept than Allen’s past few movies, essentially being a murder mystery disguised as a romantic comedy. “Deadwood”‘s Ian McShane plays investigative journalist Joe Strombel, who has just died at the beginning of the movie, but when he learns of a huge story, he decides not to go peaceably, diving off Charybdis’ boat to the underworld, in hopes of getting the story out to someone. Unfortunately, his “contact” from the afterlife is Sondra Pransky, Johansson’s neurotic and unprofessional journalism student. Since both Lyman and his source are dead, Sondra teams with aged magician Sid Waterman AKA “The Great Splendini” to find proof that rich aristocrat Peter Lyman is the Tarot Card killer as Strombel claims. To do this, Sondra uses her feminine wiles to get Lyman’s attention, but of course, she ends up falling for him and starts questioning whether he could possibly be a killer.

Allen and Johansson are quite an odd pair of detectives, the difference in their ages if not their personalities, making them a very funny on-screen duo. It certainly seems like Johansson is being groomed to be Woody’s new muse ala Diane Keaton, and she’s so much better in this than “Match Point,” because she faces the challenge of having to spout lines and lines of fast-paced Allenesque neuroses, rather than playing things in her normal deadpan manner. If you’re under 30, Allen’s schticky humor won’t seem very “hip” or “cool”–heck, you might not even find the situations funny–but any Jewish guy who grew up watching Allen’s movies will see this as a return to form, of sorts. This isn’t Woody Allen trying to be clever or intelligent; it’s Woody Allen trying to entertain and make people laugh.

That said, there are more than a few similarities with “Match Point,” and not just the setting and star. Once again, Allen uses a mystery story to make a commentary about the class system in England, though this time, he approaches it with a comedian’s mindset. Once again, Johansson’s character is put in danger, and there are a few lines straight out of “Match Point,” like when Sondra comments on how fast Lyman works. It’s the same thing she told Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in “Match Point” but it works better when said with a wink. Playing a rich and charming aristocrat isn’t much of a stretch for Jackman, but his screen presence is much better than Meyers’, and he seems to enjoy playing the straight man to Allen and Johansson.

The movie is far from perfect in terms of its plot and pacing, as some of the jokes fall flat, and it starts getting a bit dreary towards the end, but it’s still better than Allen’s other recent offerings, if only because Allen is much funnier when playing his own neurotic self rather than getting other actors to impersonate him. Allen even gets into a car chase towards the end, possibly a subtle nod back to “Sleeper,” but ultimately, the ending ends up being a bit too pat in the way it ties all the loose ends together.

Maybe Woody Allen will never be quite as skilled at creating funny characters and dialogue as he was thirty years ago, but “Scoop” is certainly a step back in the right direction. “Scoop” is what “Match Point” would have been if Allen allowed himself to be funny, which let’s face it, is what he does best.

The Bottom Line:
Woody Allen’s return to humor isn’t as perfect as his earlier comedies, but if you’re a fan of Allen’s schtick and want to watch Scarlett Johansson taking one step closer to being Diane Keaton, then you should be able to get more than enough laughs out of “Scoop” to make up for its imperfections.

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Weekend: Nov. 15, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018

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