Scoop (Focus Features, PG-13)

You should have been given pause when I mentioned that Sondra is told the scoop by a ghost—this is the kind of dumbass, wet poop of a plot point that you'll be in for repeatedly if you see this movie.

 

The comparisons between Woody Allen's last movie, Match Point, and his new movie, Scoop, are obvious and lazy and unavoidable. They're both set and shot in London, they both star Scarlett Johansson, they're both slightly off-kilter murder stories. The former is the Woodman's best film in years, the latter is his worst film in years. So it goes.

The setup this time around is that a young, talentless, wide-eyed American journalism student, Sondra Pransky (Johansson), finds out from the ghost of a recently deceased and formerly very talented journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) the scoop that a handsome, popular, rich, well-to-do young man, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), is actually a Jack the Ripper-like serial killer. The scoop is relatively unformed when Strombel tells Sondra, so Sondra is charged with the task of being able to prove it before writing the story and becoming the next big name in journalism as a result, and her trying to get the evidence to prove it is what takes up the bulk of the film's 96-minute running time.

You should have been given pause in the last paragraph when I mentioned that Sondra is told the scoop by a ghost—this is the kind of dumbass, wet poop of a plot point that you'll be in for repeatedly if you see this movie; stupid contrivances like that just keep coming. For one, Sondra meets Strombel's ghost while in a magician's box which is supposed to make her disappear. The magician who owns and operates the box is named Sid Waterman, and is played by Allen himself. There is no reason or function in the plot of Waterman's character to be in the movie (aside of giving Allen a role, as he almost always does)-he could be completely excised and not only would it not hurt the story, but it would probably help it. The only scene in which he is remotely functional is the first one, where Pransky sees his show and is selected from the audience to be the person who disappears in the box. Still, he wouldn't be needed at all if that scene were set somewhere else (which would help the movie), or if Pransky didn't learn the scoop from a goddamned ghost (which would also help the movie). But instead, Pransky keeps dragging Waterman at her side throughout every scene in the movie, introducing him to people as her dad. I can't imagine a fan of Allen's not wishing that he would drop his need to cast himself opposite and appear in nearly every scene with whatever hot young actress he has a crush on at the time of the film's shooting.

Perhaps even more alarming than the stupid and hole-filled plot is how poorly the film was made. The editing is appalling (especially the transitions, or lack thereof, from scene to scene), the cinematography is ugly, the locations and production design are either knock-offs of Match Point or bad, or both. Allen is irritating (as he almost always is, especially as he gets older), and Johansson isn't so much bad is she is woefully miscast. Only Jackman remains unscathed in this armpit of a film. After Match Point, people raved that Johansson was a wonderful muse for Allen, or that it was a great idea for him to leave his beloved New York and shoot a movie in London for a change; sadly, Scoop disproves both of these theories. It was six years in between Woody's last good movie (Sweet & Lowdown) and Match Point, which I guess means that we'll have to wait until 2011 or later before we see another solid effort from someone who was formerly one of the nation's most relevant filmmakers.

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