After a brief shift in style for the compelling drama of Match Point, Woody Allen returns to his recognizable avatar of the confused-stammering-hands flaying-self-deprecating-semi-neurotic but kind-hearted self. In Scoop, he dons the role of a small time, low-brow American magician, Sid Walterman (stage name: Splendini), who gets entangled in a murder investigation with Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johanssen) – a rather bumbling, but sexually appealing American journalism student (she manages to sleep with a famous British director but fails to get a story) on vacation in London.
As an audience-volunteer inside Splendini’s ‘de-materializing’ box, Sondra gets the tip-off of a lifetime from the ethereal form of a recently deceased famous British journalist: a recent spate of serial killings of short-haired brunette prostitutes, called the ‘Tarot-card Murders’ are apparently being committed by Peter Lyman, son of a wealthy English aristocrat ! However, it would be impossible to implicate such an influential person on such flimsy evidence. Thus aided (with reluctance) by Sid, Sandra ingratiates herself with the charming Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman – who disappoints in the role) to uncover the truth and obtain a major scoop. Predictably, in the course of the movie, Sandra actually falls in love with Peter and refuses to believe he could be a killer despite mounting evidence (from both real and the netherworld) to the contrary.
Scoop is a light-hearted murder mystery-comedy – meaning neither the mystery is intriguing nor the comedy particularly sharp. But it has its flashes of zany dialogues and one-liners like: ‘I can’t wear contacts – I don’t like touching my eyeballs with my fingers’ or a typical Allenesque : ‘I was born of the Hebrew persuasion, but I converted ……..to Narcissism’ ! Scarlett Johanssen, who played the moody femme fatale role with perfection in Match Point, does adequately as the comically clueless yet determined girl (for the lack of a better adjective, a more Allen-like heroine). Like Match Point, Allen moves his story to London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, he does not embed London in the narrative like New York, which one can argue, is by itself a character in many of Allen’s works.
So a Manhattan Murder Mystery this is not – but is certainly superior to Hollywood Ending/Curse of the Jade Scorpion (the abyss of Allens’s career, IMHO) and you will enjoy the film if you, like me, are a dedicated Allen fan. Otherwise, I would urge you to watch some Allen masterpieces before putting this on your Netlix/Blockbuster queue.