Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, and Woody Allen star in a film written and directed by Allen.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Scoop’s most astonishing quality is the utter wretchedness of its writing. A couple of Allen’s jokes zing like days of yore, some flop, and many more seem like reruns. The driving joke from Annie Hall, colleagues gathered to toast Broadway Danny Rose, and the mock danse macabre from Love and Death are all here, recycled and reused. Allen seems uninterested in constructing believable motivations, or even characters with consistent cores. Certainly Scoop is meant to be the smiley-faced companion piece to last year’s brilliant but unremittingly dark Match Point, and both were shot around London rather than in Allen’s beloved Manhattan. Both starred Scarlett Johansson, too, though she was a sultry temptress in Match and here plays a corny-but-bright innocent who’s abroad. That is, when she isn’t suddenly changing character to suit the whims of Allen’s flimsy comedy.
Actually, I like flimsy comedies. But this is a high-concept throwaway, the story of a journalist who returns from the grave and leads Allen and Johansson toward a latter-day Jack the Ripper. It’s remotely possible Allen fashioned this as a tribute to Hitchcock, since it obliquely references Notorious and Suspicion for romantic intrigue and Family Plot’s unwitting psychics. More credibly, the film seems to be Allen kissing off his own character. Never has his face gone more flubbery and nattering and the stuttering delivery can only be self-satire. In Scoop, Allen plays a second-rate magician whose clichéd patter, we understand, will extend beyond the grave. New dimensions in self-loathing, yet it seems pathetically like a Catskill Prospero saying goodbye for a cheese-ball Shakespeare.
By my count, Allen has made 37 feature films since 1966. He’s famously said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. Scoop proves him mostly wrong. And we buy the tickets. Maybe Allen should stay home for a little while, maybe read a book, and then try for 100 percent for our sake.