November 27, 2006 -- I wasn't expecting much when I went to see Woody Allen's latest film, “Scoop” at the Wyo Theatre last night, and it was, indeed, a very slight film, as I expected from the reviews. What was surprising, however, was how sloppily it had been put together and how many holes there were in the story. Is Woody Allen, one of America's best-ever writer-directors, losing his gift? Many people hailed last year's film “Match Point” as a major comeback for Allen. I wasn't convinced of that, and this film is a further indication that Allen's once stellar gifts are in decline.
In “Scoop,” Woody re-teams with his “Match Point” star, Scarlett Johansson, who plays Sondra Pransky, a journalism student who has a habit of having sex with the people she's supposed to be interviewing. While participating in a magic trick conducted by Sid Waterman (Woody Allen), she has a vision of a departed journalist, Joe Strombel (played by Ian McShane of “Agent Cody Banks”). While crossing the River Styx with the Grim Reaper, Strombel gets a tip on a big story from a murder victim. He swims back to the mortal shores to try to break the story with the aide of Miss Pransky. When Sid sees the same ghost, he and Sondra become unlikely partners in a dangerous game of investigative reporting.
The suspect in this notorious “Tarot Card Murder” case is an English lord, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman of “The Prestige”). As usual, Sondra ends up in bed with the man she is supposed to be investigating. She doesn't think the handsome and charming Lyman could be the murderer, but Joe Strombel, who repeatedly escapes the clutches of the Grim Reaper, remains convinced of Lyman's guilt and helps dig up new clues. Eventually, Strombel convinces the reluctant Sid Waterman to continue his investigation. The investigation takes some tricky turns and eventually becomes quite dangerous for both Sondra and Sid.
One of the big problems with the script is that Sid doesn't have nearly enough motivation to even begin a murder investigation, let alone pursue it with such tireless passion. Sondra's motivation, too, is a problem. There are also some lapses on the part of Peter Lyman, as well, when he successfully hides one clue, but leaves another, even more damning clue in the same exact spot for no earthly reason. While there is at least one surprising plot development, and some very good jokes in the film, mostly in the way of Woody Allen one-liners, the overall drama, suspense and comedy in the film are surprisingly flat. It is not a particularly funny or engaging film. This is one of the very least of Allen's many cinematic efforts. The acting, overall, is passable. There are also some nice location shots (in England). You know when you are in trouble, however, when the most interesting character in the film is a dead guy who is only on screen for about five minutes. This film rates a C.
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