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In the last 40 years, starting with What's Up Tiger Lily? in 1966, Woody Allen has written and directed 37 films, almost one a year. We all can rhyme off his early films like Bananas, Sleeper, and Annie Hall. But, can you name any of the three films he made before last year's Match Point? I bet you can't and that you didn't see them either (Melinda and Melinda, Anything Else, Hollywood Ending). Well, me neither. It seems like Woody has been making his usual one film per year but no one was seeing them. Life seemed to have passed him by. He's now 70 years old. Makes me feel old. And, of course, there were those little events in his private life that seemed like echoes from his films. In particular, when he divorced Mia Farrow and married Mia's adopted daughter who is 35 years younger than him, it seemed like something right out of a Woody Allen film. Plus, there is his recent predilection (since Mia?) of having men in his movies kill or try to kill their wives or girlfriends, i.e., Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and most recently, Match Point. The latter was a very different Woody Allen film and not because it was good. He still makes good films. But he left New York City where most of his films are set, and moved to England to make a movie. Match Point was very good, almost an anti-Woody film. For one thing, he wasn't in it. And it seemed to get him out of whatever rut he was in. Although, one of the plot points in Match Point involved the main male character (Paul Bettany) killing his girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson). Now, we have Woody's new film, Scoop, also shot in England, also starring Scarlett Johansson. And not to give too much away, but Scoop is about a modern day Jack the Ripper, i.e., a man who murders women. And 'Death' makes an appearance, scythe and all. So, maybe Woody isn't out of his rut after all.
Scoop tells the story of a young would-be reporter (Scarlett Johansson), who is vacationing in London. One evening, she attends a magic show featuring, The Great Splendini (Woody Allen), and whilst she is being dematerialized as part of the Splendini's act, an apparition appears before her in the shape of a recently deceased muckraking reporter (Ian McShane). He tells Johansson that the identity of the new Jack the Ripper is a well-heeled upper class guy (Hugh Jackman), and that she can get a great scoop if she can prove he's guilty. So Johansson with Woody, aka The Great Splendini, in tow sets off to get her scoop. The film now begins to resemble a 1930's screwball comedy. When Johansson meets Jackman, she pretends to be an aspiring actress and also that Woody is her father. She becomes involved romantically with Jackman as she tries to find clues as to whether he is the killer. She apparently thinks that sleeping with a guy is the best way to get an interview because she is doing just that with some famous rocker in the first scene of Scoop. Anyway, the deceptions and misunderstandings get worse and worse. "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive," as Sir Walter Scott would say. But eventually "murder will out," as Geoffrey Chaucer would say. Hmmm, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this except to say that that's all I will say about the plot.
Scoop is a real throwback of a Woody Allen movie. Woody is playing his usual character, i.e., himself. But Scoop is not a totally successful movie. For one thing, the script isn't that funny. Maybe Woody had a off day when he was writing it. But even though the words on the page aren't that funny, there is something endearing about this movie. This is mostly due to the cute chemistry that develops between Woody and Scarlett. I am not talking about romantic chemistry. They play their father/daughter roles with no hint of anything icky. But they are very cute together. And Johansson, it turns out, is a pretty good straight man, just playing off of Woody's wackiness. She can make a line like, "And stop telling people I sprang from your loins," sound pretty funny. The rest of the cast is mostly just standing around watching the Woody and Scarlett show. Ian McShane (Deadwood) is good but since he's dead, he isn't around much. Unfortunately, Hugh Jackman (X-Men) is very wooden. He's usually good and sexy, etc., but here he seems to be imprisoned by his English accent or something. Charles Dance (Alien 3) has a small role as a Newspaper editor and Margaret Tyzack (2001: A Space Odyssey) has an even smaller role. But I still love her and it's nice that she's still around 38 years later.
Like I said, Scoop isn't a great movie, but it is fun to watch. Apparently, Woody just started the cameras rolling to see what would happen. The plot is a bit of a mishmash and doesn't make much sense. And it might have been more fun if there were some chemistry between Johansson and Jackman rather than her and Woody, but c'est la vie.