For all of you - OK, all of us - who wish and wish for an old-fashioned Woody Allen movie, here it is: "Scoop." It's a tired, thin, almost laughless reminder of the earlier Allen.
It has amateur sleuthing and a murder mystery, a la "Manhattan Murder Mystery." It has Scarlett Johansson, wonderful English character actors (Charles Dance, Julian Glover, Ian McShane), and glorious English settings, like "Match Point."
And it has almost no laughs, like "Hollywood Ending."
The setup: A famous British tabloid journalist has died. His friends share a few in the pub, remembering him. But before anything as fun as "Broadway Danny Rose" can start up, we catch up with the dead man himself. He's on a boat, with Death, crossing the River Styx. And a woman there has a scoop for him. She knows who the "Tarot Killer" is, London's latest Jack-the-Ripper.
Being an intrepid reporter (McShane, of TV's "Deadwood," plays him), he figures out a way to cheat Death.
Johansson plays Sandy, an ethically challenged college journalist on vacation in the U.K. She is summoned onstage to get in a "Chinese Box" by the magician, Splendido (Allen), and once in there, she is visited by the ghost of a real journalist. She recognizes the scoop that could make her career.
Scoop * 1/2
For all of you -- OK, all of us -- who wish and wish for an old-fashioned Woody Allen movie, here it is: "Scoop." It's a tired, thin, almost laughless reminder of the earlier Allen. It has amateur sleuthing and a murder mystery, a la "Manhattan Murder Mystery." It has Scarlett Johansson, wonderful English character actors (Charles Dance, Julian Glover, Ian McShane), and glorious English settings, like "Match Point."
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"You have to get the story first, but first you've got to get the story right," the ghostly reporter lectures.
All she has to do is prove that Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), son of a lord, dashing lady's man, likes to strangle prostitutes. With Splendido's help, she falls in with Lyman, and into his bed, all the while doubting the clues that the late reporter passes on, clues that Splendido - whose real name is Sidney - believes.
As Allen movies go, this is a lark. The overrated "Match Point" allowed Allen the fresh start of making a movie outside of New York. But he didn't figure out from her tortured, mannered locutions in that one that Ms. Johansson is just not suited to his neurotic, quick, joke-punctuated patter.
"We've got to put our heads together," Allen kvetches.
"If we put our heads together, you'll hear a hollow noise," she fires back.
And crickets. You'll hear crickets. Because it isn't funny, she isn't funny saying it and no one will laugh.
McShane has no good lines. Even the charming Mr. Jackman is just set dressing here. Allen trots out his "With all due respect, I say this from the bottom of my heart" shtick, and finds nothing funny to do with it.
Allen is one of those directors whose words are sacrosanct. When they're good and funny, and the actor is on Allen's wavelength (think John Cusack in "Bullets Over Broadway"), the jokes zing. When they're clunkers, and Johansson is merely the fetching femme of the moment, and Allen won't let anybody riff or joke around and try to find something funnier to say or do, well, you get "Hollywood Ending."
Or "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion." Or "Deconstructing Harry."