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Scoop

Scoop

opens with the funeral of a respected and admired British journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane of cable's

Deadwood

). After the service, his colleagues recall what a tenacious reporter he was. Cut to Death'yes, Mr. Scythe-carrying Death himself'escorting the recently departed on a boat to the afterlife. On board is Joe who's still looking for a good story. He finds one in a fellow passenger. She claims she was poisoned because she uncovered evidence that the dashing young son of a prominent lord may be the infamous Tarot Card Killer who's been murdering young brunette prostitutes. The information is simply too good to sit on so Joe jumps out of the boat and manages to find his way back down to earth for a brief visit.

He ends up appearing in a magic box belonging to Mr. Splendini (Woody Allen) during one of his shows. Joe has focused all his energy on contacting a journalist and the one he ends up making contact with is Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), a reporter in training who just happened to volunteer for Mr. Splendini's magic show. The supernatural encounter fires up Sondra's journalistic aspirations and she enlists a reluctant Sid'Mr. Splendini's off stage persona'for help. Together they set off on an investigative effort to see if Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) could possibly be the infamous serial killer. Along the way, however, Sondra falls for her charming and handsome suspect.

Scoop mixes the sleuthing of Manhattan Murder Mystery with the supernatural elements of Oedipus Wrecks and Alice , and then throws in a bit of Broadway Danny Rose to come up with a comedy that's far less satisfying than any of its parts. Scoo is especially disappointing because it comes on the heels of Match Poin t, last year's dramatic effort by Allen. Match Point harkened back to the moral and emotional complexities of Crimes and Misdemeanors , and it presented Allen as an artist seemingly refreshed and reinvigorated by a new locale 'London' and actors that he had never worked with before Scarlett Johansson, Jonathon Rhys Meyers.

In a sense, Scoo tries to rework the elements of Match Poin . Once again we have a London setting, a murder, a charming suspect, an American traveling abroad and a cross Atlantic romance. But Scoop turns out to be everything that Match Point was not. It attempts to be a comedy, its characters fall flat, and it feels very tired. Whereas Match Point felt like it was exploring new ground, Scoop covers territory that's all too familiar. Scoop offers standard Allen shtick with Allen channeling himself through Johansson (although not in a manner as uncomfortable as when Kenneth Branagh channeled the director in Celebrity ). There are occasional funny moments as when Sid'very uncomfortable posing as Sondra's father for their undercover investigation finds his niche with the rich by entertaining them with his magic show card tricks.

Scoop (rated PG-13) is Woody Allen lite - very lite. But the good thing about Allen is that he tends to make one film a year so even if one bombs, he's already moving on to another project that's poised to erase the memory of any bad film. Plus, he makes films fast enough and cheap enough that he will keep getting the funding he needs. So although Allen's recent works have been more misses than hits, he remains one of America's most prolific filmmakers and one of its best writers.

Companion viewing: Match Point, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Crimes and Misdemeanors -----

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