Scoop (2006) **
Directed by Woody Allen
I’ve got a great idea for a new diet. Every time you get a craving to eat, simply begin watching Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Sondra Pransky in Woody Allen’s Scoop. It’s sure to make you lose your appetite! Thank God the movie itself is better than Johansson’s epically terrible acting, or else I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it through. Unfortunately, Scoop doesn’t work well enough for me to recommend it. There are great moments and hilarious Allen-esque one liners, but the story as a whole is so predictable and disappointing that by the end I felt cheated. Add some Scarlett colored acting and the final product is one that Allen probably should leave off his curriculum vitae.
Allen has used Johansson as well in his extremely satisfying murder mystery, Match Point. There’s a film worth seeing, and while I didn’t pay attention to whether or not Johansson was any good in her role, she didn’t stick out in my mind which means that she must not have been too bad. In Scoop, she sounds almost like a Woody Allen female impersonator, with the same stuttering
If I recall correctly, Johansson is always on screen with one of three people—Allen, Hugh Jackman or Ramola Garai. All three come off natural and extremely comfortable with the dialogue their characters are given, which makes Johansson’s performance stand out in its deplorability. Allen plays a traveling magician named Sid Waterman, aka Splendini. Johansson’s Sondra is chosen from the audience to stand in a box which will make her disappear. While in the box, the spirit of a recently deceased reporter named Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) appears to tell her to investigate a man named Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). Lyman is an extremely wealthy businessman whom Sondra believes to be the Tarot Card Serial Killer.
The next day, she returns to Sid and his box to try and see Strombel’s spirit again. He doesn’t appear right away, but he does return in front of the two of them after a while. So now Sid and Sondra work together to investigate Peter. Sondra first encounters Peter at a club where she pretends to be drowning so he can save her. He’s immediately smitten by her and invites her to a party at his house. She accepts and asks if she can bring her father. So now Sondra and Sid pretend to be father and daughter at the party.
Peter falls for Sondra quickly, and Sondra begins to fall for Peter as well, though the clues point more and more to Peter’s guilt. Things seem to conclude though when a man does confess to being the Tarot Card Serial Killer. Sondra’s relieved that now she can tell Peter the truth about who she is and the two can continue their relationship without the sneakiness and suspicion. Strombel reappears to Sid to tell him that he should continue investigating Peter because there’s more to the story that he must find out. I won’t give away what happens next, and I probably don’t need to since I’m sure you know exactly how this film is going to end. You and I have seen this shtick a million times before. The supposed climax of the movie is so stupid that I began to wonder whether I was taking it too seriously. Could Scoop simply be a farce trying to make fun of similar films? I concluded that the film all the way through plays the plot straightforward, and as such, we have to take a scene like the one on the boat at face value. Yes, Allen’s screenplay is filled with comedic jokes and elements of fantasy, but it’s not a parody. It’s a comedy that’s trying for true attempts at being a thriller. Try as it might, the thrills were non-existent, but the eye rolling on my part was plentiful.
Woody Allen’s Sid is about as Woody Allen-ish as any part he’s ever played. Here’s a textbook example of what his characters are all basically like. Because he’s played this role ad nauseum, he’s able to make it work without even trying. I admit that he’s very good, but I’m not convinced that he didn’t simply phone his performance in. I suppose I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. Jackman has the ability to irritate the heck out of me, often times overplaying his roles to the point where they can be seen as flamboyant. Here, since his character doesn’t get to make many jokes, he plays it straightforward with refreshing understatement and loads of suave charm. I’m surprised he accepted this role. On paper, I can only imagine that it might seem boring. Jackman really elevated the character by providing a spot on performance.
As in every Woody Allen film, there are lines that make the viewer laugh out loud. My favorite line in the film is delivered by Allen himself. “I had a wife but she dumped me if you can believe that. She thought I was immature and that I never grew up. I had a great rebuttal for her. I could have nailed her, you know, but I raised my hand and she wouldn’t call on me.” Add in lines like, “I was in the lounge. I heard you drowning. I finished my tea and scones and came immediately,” and, “I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism,” and sure, you get some great laughs from Scoop. Unfortunately, the laughs are few. Many of the jokes don’t work, especially ones delivered by Sondra.
So, what is Scoop? It’s an inconsistently funny predictable comedy thriller with some good performances along with an unforgettable train wreck called Scarlett Johansson’s acting. Woody Allen’s a talented writer and no one disputes that the guy is one of the greatest film legends of all time. I think he makes too many movies too quickly. Match Point from a few years ago was wonderful. Ten years ago, he made an underappreciated film called Everyone Says I Love You that I have in my 100 Greatest Movies list. Thirty years ago, he made what could be argued to be the best comedy of all time with Annie Hall. Unfortunately, considering the fifty plus films he’s written in his career, for every classic, there are two or three duds. With that track record, I think it’s best to wait for positive word of mouth before seeing one of his films. Then maybe I might stop wasting time with movies like Scoop.