Sorry, I know that’s not helpful. I also know many people find this to be a funny light comedy from Woody Allen as evidenced by its score on IMDb. All I know is I’ve seen this both times. Both of the times I’ve seen it have come after the good comeback of Match Point and both times this has killed the good will that came from that movie. Allen is like an addict to laziness and here he has had a relapse.
Scoop is about an American journalism student named Sondra (Scarlett Johansson). She gets a tip from the ghost of a legendary journalist (played by Ian McShane) that wealthy aristocrat Peter (Hugh Jackman) is a serial killer known as the Tarot Card Killer. Sondra tries to investigate but finds herself falling in love with him.
It is really not a good sign when Allen is seemingly going back to the realm of Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Small Time Crooks. Alright, I’ve been trying to write about this movie and have been sitting in front of my computer for a long time because with all these movies and reviews, I am really struggling to think of things I haven’t said already. How fitting given the fact I am reviewing a director that is struggling to think of things he hasn’t said already.
I have bemoaned several times the laziness of Allen and maybe I need to go into that a bit more. I know several Allen apologists who will mention the fact he has made a movie every year since he started and it wasn’t effecting his quality before. To that, I say we are talking about a different Woody Allen. Younger Allen was energetic and had a million ideas bursting out of him. He was always experimenting with tones and styles and camera work. While he tried at times to emulate directors he loved, he was still trying to do his own thing. So while he made a movie a year, none of them felt lazy because they were earnest attempts at art.
Now it seems like Allen does movies, not from a genuine love of film but because he can’t be retired. It is like the man has no hobbies and no friends to hang out with so doing something like Jade Scorpion is a better thing to do during the work week rather than sitting at home doing nothing. The ideas for his comedies lately have been rejected joke concepts that he keeps in a dresser drawer that he blows the dust off of. It doesn’t help he makes cracks that he only does one take with actors because he would rather be at the Knicks game than doing this.
Younger Woody wouldn’t have made Scoop for the same reason he threw the joke concept in his desk drawer in the first place. It is because there isn’t enough to make a good movie out of it. The jokey premise is that a dead journalist comes back as a ghost to help this useless student crack a massive story but they do nothing humorous with it. The premise is there solely to get the plot moving but Ian McShane is wasted and so is the character. He just shows up every 10 minutes to say something like “You need to figure out who the Tarot Card Killer is.” and then disappear. That’s it.
Really the comedy in this movie is all about the kind of buddy cop-ish dynamic of Scarlett Johansson and Woody Allen. First off, Scarlett is just odd in this movie as she is I guess trying to do a Woody Allen impression like Branaugh and Cusack and it so doesn’t work. There are brief moments where Allen throws out a funny quip but for the most part, it seems like scene after scene of bickering that is trying to disguise itself as witty banter. I felt as if this movie was in a loop becuase every five minutes we would get this scene:
Sid: Peter is the Tarot Card Killer
Sondra: That’s crazy Sid! I swear you have a screw loose.
Sid: *stammering* Then how do you explain X.
Sondra: That could come from anywhere. Jesus Sid, how suspicious are you? Peter is a nice guy he couldn’t have done it!
Sid: *stammering* The guy is weird, Joe Stromberg…
Sondra: You’re wrong Sid. Peter wouldn’t hurt a fly! I’m done! You guys are crazy! You have a screw loose!
These scenes go on and on and on and on and on and they recur every couple of minutes. Where is the joke? Where is the witty banter? Yes, I know I’m not quoting verbatim but that is the gist. One person brings up a bit of circumstantial evidence and the other person whines that the other person is crazy. That’s it! By the 50 minute mark I was stupidly yelling at the TV to shut up because all the characters would do is pointlessly bicker at one another.
It doesn’t help that our main character seemingly doesn’t give a fuck about solving the case. Seriously, there is almost nothing in it for her. The story isn’t that Sondra is super motivated to be a journalist. She feels like she was forced to England out of obligation and the story falls in her lap. She doesn’t feel threatened by Peter and falls in love with him. So why should we care? Remember back to a movie called So I Married an Axe Murderer? It was a while ago when Mike Myers had a career. Anyway, that movie is a masterpiece compared to Scoop. The character in that movie is scared for his life and is actively looking for evidence that either confirms or denies his beliefs. Along the way he is put in awkward and sometimes life threatening situations. The story is always moving, the characters are motivated, and most importantly that movie was funny.
Scoop is not funny. Take one of the few recurring jokes of the movie in which Allen, who plays a minor magician called Splendini, wows upper class twits with stupid card tricks. I guess it is a joke that these snooty upper class aristocrats are amused by the same thing that would barely amuse a five year old but they don’t just stop with one time. Allen does that joke another three times during the movie. Or take another “joke” near the end where Sid dies trying to rescue Sondra because he always had trouble remembering to drive on the left side of the road. That joke is barely a joke for one but it is strange that that is seemingly the high point of the humor for this movie. I shouldn’t have to be digging for the jokes in this supposed comedy.
I know I am being a real grinch despite doing this retrospective out of love for Allen. But it is hard going through all of his movies and experiencing the dreadful lows this man has done. I know there are die hards who will disagree vehemently and who will call this a breezy fun comedy. To me Scoop was painful as it is 90 minutes of bickering and extremely forced comedy from someone with whom comedy was effortless at one point in his career. This was a hard movie to sit through this late in the retrospective.