So the second half of the aforementioned weekend double-feature was Woody Allen’s Scoop. (As far as choices go, we were somewhat limited — other members of our party had already seen Little Miss Sunshine and Talladega Nights, and while I may still catch Snakes on a Plane at some point, I’d like to see it with a bigger, rowdier audience than would fill an afternoon matinee on the islands.) At any rate, cringeworthy at first, Scoop is a passable little flick, I suppose — Once it settles into its rhythm, it’s a decent ninety minutes of air-conditioning. When I say it feels like an old-fashioned throwback, I don’t mean in the sense of vintage Allen comedies like Bananas, Love and Death, Take the Money and Run, or Sleeper. It’s nowhere near as funny as those films, even if Allen is once again doing his usual nebbishy schtick here. (It is, however, better than recent Allen bombs like Manhattan Murder Mystery or Small Time Crooks, albeit not by much.) Rather, with its thin characters and gossamer plot line, Scoop is so breezy as to seem weightless — there’s barely a movie here at all, just an opportunity for Woody and new favorite sidekick Scarlett Johannson to play Woody for an hour and a half. This will likely seem either endearing and nostalgic or deeply painful to you, depending on your threshold for Allenisms.
The set-up is this: Sondra Pransky (Johansson) is a verbose, vaguely neurotic, and bespectacled (you do the math) college journalist staying with upper-class friends in London and aiming to break into the journalistic big-time. While serving as an audience volunteer for a third-rate Borscht Belt magic show one evening by the Great Splendini, a.k.a. Sid Waterman (Allen), Pransky is visited by a ghost in the machine: namely, that of former Fleet Street legend Joe Strombel (Ian McShane, carrying Al Swearingen with him whereever he goes right now). Apparently unable to file his story from the grave, Strombel’s spectre offers Pransky the scoop of a lifetime: upper-crust son of privilege Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is in fact the Tarot Card Killer, a lowlife murderer currently haunting the streets of London. Armed with this unearthly knowledge, Pransky and Waterman set out to get enough dirt on the young Lord Lyman to make the story, a plan which is complicated, naturally, by Pransky falling in love with her target.
What this all amounts to is Johansson flirting with Jackman and/or playing Nancy Drew while Allen bumbles his way through various upper-class social gatherings. (Allen’s portrayal of the British class system is as cartoonish here as it was in Match Point, but, hey, that’s ok — for all intent and purposes, Scoop is a cartoon.) When Allen delivers seemingly decade-old groaners or fumbles with a goofy mnemonic for entirely too long, Scoop can be hard to watch without gritting your teeth and just grimacing through it. But, occasionally, Allen falls into a comfort zone or delivers a choice line which suggests there’s still some life in Alvy Singer yet. The former moments outweighs the latter, sure, and perhaps I’m being too lenient on Woody here. But, at the very least, Scoop isn’t flat-out terrible like so many other recent Allen comedies, although I can’t recommend anyone actually rush out and spend money on it. (Although, if you do, Buffy fans, keep a sharp eye out for Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) in a very brief supporting role, as well as — more exciting for my purposes — fanboy stalwarts Julian Glover (Empire, Indy 3) and Charles Dance (Alien 3, The Golden Child).)