Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"The ladle of light-hearted farce is never far enough from the plot."

Match Point and Melinda And Melinda marked a resurgence in Woody Allen's filmic output after the dearth of the late 90s and early 00s. They're both splendidly understated and appreciated films, driven by story and straightforward performances.

Still churning out a film a year, Allen's directorial status is proving refined and interesting in his twilight years. Indeed, not since the days of silent film, have there been people who would consistently write, direct, and often star in a movie every single year.

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One could easily compare his auteurship to Yasujiro Ozu, who essentially crafted family stories with only slightly varying themes - mostly enjoyable, some duds and a few masterpieces. Like Ozu, Allen seems to enjoy familiarity in his plots and characterisations - while occasionally throwing in a new actor or technical craftsman. This new plot blends his guilty-pleasure Manhattan Murder Mystery with the soon-to-be-patented postcard English Countryside of Match Point.

To the film at hand, Scoop is an energetic and mostly entertaining comedy about a murder mystery. We open on the funeral of a newspaper reporter, Joe Strombel (Lovejoy himself, Ian McShane). While travelling the Styx, Strombel learns Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman, sporting a delightful aristocratic accent), is the "Tarot Card Killer", as famous as Jack the Ripper - the scoop of a lifetime. Horrific, mildly misanthropic magician Splendini - Sid Waterman (Woody Allen) invites Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johannson), a journalism student, onstage for another of his booth tricks. Inside the booth - while Splendini begins to "disseminate her molecules" - the freshly-dead Strombel appears before her, and whispers the solid-gold scoop before the Grim Reaper claims him back.

Before long, Pransky meets Lyman socially, changes her name, and slips into bed with him scouting for clues. She ropes in Waterman to pose as her father. There's obvious chemistry between the two pairs, Jackman is charismatic and fun to watch - and Allen deftly avoids geriatric sexual tension by genuinely taking on the parental aspect of his new heroine muse from Match Point.

Scoop is an amiable enough film, Johannson fitting the mould of the ditzy blonde superbly - although the obvious costume choice of round Harry Potter glasses does not disguise her stunning femininity. As performer, Allen is fun - firing quippy deadpan zingers and poking fun at the aristocracy - "I used to be of the Hebrew persuasion, but as I got older, I converted to narcissism" - and regurgitating his honking Paul Daniels catchphrase-laden act at every moment.

But director Allen never grasps the gravity of the situation, the ladle of light-hearted farce is never far enough from the plot. There is no moment in the film comparable to Hitchcock's grasp of tension, in spite of the plot and humour similarities. (The clues in the wine-cellar, a la Notorious, the is-he-isn't-he switcharoo plotting of Rear Window)

Scoop is ultimately disappointing. It's more a Small Time Crooks outing, than anything remotely tougher, meaningful or oddly-funnier. Never mind, with Allen's current workrate, it usually isn't long before the next one, eh?

Reviewed on: 21 Jan 2007
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Journalist comes back from dead to help solve murder mystery.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Geoff Bell, Christopher Fulford, Nigel Lindsay, Ian McShane, Fenella Woolgar, Doreen Mantle, David Schneider, Meera Syal, Kevin McNally

Year: 2006

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, USA


Glasgow 2007

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If you like this, try:

Gosford Park
Match Point
The Prestige