Hopeful believers still fill theaters for a new Woody Allen movie. His annual effort has opened, offering these audiences the possibility of laughing from the gut at the anxieties of the stuttering little man who holds the key to our urban neuroses. We are looking, of course, for “Annie Hall.”
What we find instead is “Scoop.” Anyone who makes one movie a year risks over exposure, especially if he has one shtick that got stuck in the groove some years back. But after a long downward slide, Allen gave us the gift last year of “Match Point,” an overwhelming surprise of a thriller. He had found a new locale: England, and a new star: Scarlett Johansson. He put upper class London youth under a microscope and made us squirm at its realities. The reinvigorated master examined betrayal, luck, and the workings of a stone cold heart.
In “Scoop,” he has tried to wring another success from the new formula by casting Ms. Johansson as Sondra Pransky, a rather dim student from Brooklyn who decides she would pass better in London as Jade Julliard Spence. She meets Woody Allen in the theater where he is The Great Splendini, a small time magician of less than amateur standing. A spirit of sorts (Ian McShane) materializes on stage to hand her a scoop on a murder in the British upper class. Jade will pursue the crime and Splendini will pretend he is her father. Already we are in trouble.
Scarlett Johansson is simply silly as a student investigative reporter. We remember her from last year as the sexy flytrap who riveted and then surprised us in “Match Point,” and we remember, with a certain sadness, that one of the strengths of that movie was that Mr. Allen stayed off screen to direct the intricacies of his thriller. The dialogue he has written this time for the two Brooklyn Americans trying to deal with the Lords and Ladies, is obvious and sophomoric and his presence carries too much of his old stuff.
This is not to say that you won’t laugh. There’s a marvelous scene of Woody driving hell bent to the rescue in a Smart car, usually on the wrong side of the English road. (Can you imagine Woody Allen even knowing how to drive?) Just watching Hugh Jackman is a pleasure, though his pairing with Ms. Johansson is ludicrous because it’s impossible. She is the last imaginable person he would pick up at an English garden party.
There are those of us who will go to Woody Allen no matter what; if you are among us, you will laugh gently from time to time if mostly from what is stored in your long term memory bank. And now and then you will have a good guffaw as I did when Jade said “I don’t wear contacts; I don’t like my finger to touch my eyeball.” If even this isn’t enough, go out and rent “Match Point.”
Copyright (c) Illusion
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