Scoop (2006) / Comedy-Mystery

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Romola Garai, Charles Dance
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published July 31, 2006

Set in London, Scarlett Johansson (The Island, In Good Company) plays traveling American journalism student Sondra Pransky, who, while voluntarily assisting American magician Sid Waterman (Allen), aka Splendini, is visited by the apparition of a recently deceased news reporter, Joe Strombel (McShane, Agent Cody Banks).  Strombel tells her about the scoop of a lifetime, the identity of the man he believes is the "Tarot Killer", a serial killer murdering young women in the London area, pegging the wealthy playboy Peter Lyman (Jackman, X-Men: The Last Stand) as the culprit.  Not wanting to let a good scoop go to waste, Sondra adopts the persona of "Jade Spence", the daughter of a wealthy American businessman, with Sid assisting in the role of her father as needed.  As she starts to investigate, Sondra enters into a mutually affectionate relationship with Peter, all the while not quite sure of his guilt or innocence.

Scoop marks the second straight Woody Allen (Melinda and Melinda, Hollywood Ending) film to be set in London, and while critics lavished high praise on his effort the last time out with his cold-as-ice thriller, Match Point, Allen once again reverts back to his usual bag of tricks with his sophomore Brit effort.  I personally don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I've liked most of Woody Allen's output well enough (the sole exception is the stale misfire, Anything Else), even after his falling out with Hollywood and the press years ago.  While it's definitely one of his lesser efforts, mostly covering territory he's explored in films before (even as recent as Match Point), it's still more enjoyable to watch Woody's regurgitations than seeing the ever-increasing amount of Allen wannabes try to do the same.

In many ways, Allen reminds me of the character he portrays in the film, Splendini the magician.  Both have resolved to make their living dishing out tricks they've performed many times before, but still making the act itself entertaining through a genial nature and pleasantly comical shtick.  We know there's nothing really magical about the sleight-of-hand theatrics, but while he's on stage, he's engaging and does manage to captivate our attention with parlor tricks he's honed to perfection through years of repetition.  We know the set-up well, and the end result, and yet, he is still able to deliver enough of a good time to make the experience worthwhile, even if his act has grown overly familiar.  Whether to a big crowd or to a small group of acquaintances, he won't deviate from the nature of his performance, carrying the act through its familiar recitations until the day he dies -- and perhaps even beyond.

By this point in Allen's career, I'm sure he knows that a film like Scoop isn't likely to continue the trend in terms of accolades or big money returns at the box office.  Auteurs, or just plain cutting-edge artists, are similar in certain respects, no matter what field they're in.  Take James Brown, for instance.  There was a time when Brown changed the face of music with his new bag of funky riffs and energetic dancing, but as other acts copied his sound and his shtick, he no longer seemed as relevant anymore, and his accolades, as well as his overall record sales, died out.  While most music critics respect Brown for his phenomenal influence on American music that is still felt today, they know that whatever album he releases these days is going to sound like a James Brown record of old.  People that buy a James Brown album today don't do it with the expectation that Brown is going to set the world of music on fire once again with a brand new sound and attitude; they know it's going to sound just like a James Brown record, with each song reminding them of similar songs he did many years ago when his sound was fresh and not done by anyone else.

It's the same with Woody Allen.  We know what to expect from Allen: regurgitations of themes and styles he invented back in the days when he was the first to do them.  When we go to the theater to watch Scoop, we do so knowing that we're going to see a Woody Allen film, filled with all of the things that make Woody's films what they are, and are content to just enjoy them for their familiarity and ability to make us laugh or think in that unique way that Allen always has, even though every joke and story element may have been ones we've seen from him before. 

Match Point surprised some critics, some of whom were taken aback that Allen would offer up something altogether different, although those with keener hindsight realized that he actually had done it before, most notably in Crimes and Misdemeanors. It had just been so long since he'd visited those themes that it seemed a fresh approach.  Scoop is familiar to Woody's fans that have stuck with him during these leaner years, where he's engaged us with lighthearted, romantic mysteries like Manhattan Murder Mystery and Curse of the Jade Scorpion.  Allen doesn't revisit these films because he doesn't know what else to do; he revisits them because, at this point of his life, it's what he likes to do.

So, what really should we expect from Woody Allen nowadays?  Are we going to continue to slam him because he's no longer leading the pack of filmmakers in breaking new ground?  Or should we, like we would for any artist with influential techniques that have been constantly borrowed from by other artists, just appreciate him for being able to still produce works with his own defined styles, motifs, and themes, even ones he's been doing for over three decades?  Now that Allen's in his seventies, perhaps it's time that he should make the kinds of movies that he wants to make --  the ones that make him happy -- and not be a punching bag for the detractors who continue to deride his efforts in making films similar to those he hasn't has made before, as if trying to squeeze out every last drop of potential brilliance from him that used to flow forth with effortless abundance. 

Scoop may not exactly be a brand new bag from Woody, but for Allen's unwavering fans, it might still make you feel good watching him make the kinds of films that he enjoys at the twilight of his career.  It's comforting in its familiarity for those that come to the theater fully expecting the kind of purely entertaining Woody Allen effort that he has spent the last two decades fine tuning, even if he's not trying to be as vibrant or resonant as when he was first staking his legendary claims in filmdom's uncharted territory.   

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo