A director is forced to work with his ex-wife, who left him for the boss of the studio bankrolling his new film. But the night before the first day of shooting, he develops a case of psychosomatic blindness.
In the funeral of the famous British journalist Joe Strombel, his colleagues and friends recall how obstinate he was while seeking for a scoop. Meanwhile the deceased Joe discloses the identity of the tarot card serial killer of London. He cheats the Reaper and appears to the American student of journalism Sondra Pransky, who is on the stage in the middle of a magic show of the magician Sidney Waterman in London, and tells her that the murderer is the aristocrat Peter Lyman. Sondra drags Sid in her investigation, seeking for evidences that Peter is the killer. However, she falls in love with him and questions if Joe Strombel is right in his scoop. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sid's green and black micro-car is a Smart ForTwo and his cell phone is a Motorola V180. See more »
Peter never asks Sondra how she got into his secure room to find the Tarot cards under the French Horn. See more »
Don't mourn for Joe Strombel. Joe Strombel had a full life. A newspaper man in the best tradition. A great credit to the Fourth Estate. It didn't matter if the bombs of the war zone were falling, it didn't matter how high up the political scandal went, or how many big corporations or small time racketeers leaned on him. Whatever the risk, if there was a story there, Joe went after it. And he usually got it.
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"Scoop" is also the name of a late-Thirties Evelyn Waugh novel, and Woody Allen's new movie, though set today, has a nostalgic charm and simplicity. It hasn't the depth of characterization, intense performances, suspense or shocking final frisson of Allen's penultimate effort "Match Point," (argued by many, including this reviewer, to be a strong return to form) but "Scoop" does closely resemble Allen's last outing in its focus on English aristocrats, posh London flats, murder, and detection. This time Woody leaves behind the arriviste murder mystery genre and returns to comedy, and is himself back on the screen as an amiable vaudevillian, a magician called Sid Waterman, stage moniker The Great Splendini, who counters some snobs' probing with, "I used to be of the Hebrew persuasion, but as I got older, I converted to narcissism." Following a revelation in the midst of Splendini's standard dematerializing act, with Scarlett Johansson (as Sondra Pransky) the audience volunteer, the mismatched pair get drawn into a dead ace English journalist's post-mortem attempt to score one last top news story. On the edge of the Styx Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) has just met the shade of one Lord Lyman's son's secretary, who says she was poisoned, and she's told him the charming aristocratic bounder son Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) was the Tarot Card murderer, a London serial killer. Sondra and Sid immediately become a pair of amateur sleuths. With Sid's deadpan wit and Sondra's bumptious beauty they cut a quick swath through to the cream of the London aristocracy.
Woody isn't pawing his young heroine muse -- as in "Match Point," Johansson again -- as in the past. This time moreover Scarlett's not an ambitious sexpot and would-be movie star. She's morphed surprisingly into a klutzy, bespectacled but still pretty coed. Sid and Sondra have no flirtation, which is a great relief. They simply team up, more or less politely, to carry out Strombel's wishes by befriending Lyman and watching him for clues to his guilt. With only minimal protests Sid consents to appear as Sondra's dad. Sondra, who's captivated Peter by pretending to drown in his club pool, re-christens herself Jade Spence. Mr. Spence, i.e., Woody, keeps breaking cover by doing card tricks, but he amuses dowagers with these and beats their husbands at poker, spewing non-stop one-liners and all the while maintaining, apparently with success, that he's in oil and precious metals, just as "Jade" has told him to say.
That's about all there is to it, or all that can be told without spoiling the story by revealing its outcome. At first Allen's decision to make Johansson a gauche, naively plainspoken, and badly dressed college girl seems not just unkind but an all-around bad decision. But Johansson, who has pluck and panache as an actress, miraculously manages to carry it off, helped by Jackman, an actor who knows how to make any actress appear desirable, if he desires her. The film actually creates a sense of relationships, to make up for it limited range of characters: Sid and Sondra spar in a friendly way, and Peter and Sondra have a believable attraction even though it's artificial and tainted (she is, after all, going to bed with a suspected homicidal maniac).
What palls a bit is Allen's again drooling over English wealth and class, things his Brooklyn background seems to have left him, despite all his celebrity, with a irresistible hankering for. Jackman is an impressive fellow, glamorous and dashing. His parents were English. But could this athletic musical comedy star raised in Australia ("X-Man's" Wolverine) really pass as an aristocrat? Only in the movies, perhaps (here and in "Kate and Leopold").
This isn't as strong a film as "Match Point," but to say it's a loser as some viewers have is quite wrong. It has no more depth than a half-hour radio drama or a TV show, but Woody's jokes are far funnier and more original than you'll get in any such media affair, and sometimes they show a return to the old wit and cleverness. It doesn't matter if a movie is silly or slapdash when it's diverting summer entertainment. On a hot day you don't want a heavy meal. The whole thing deliciously evokes a time when movie comedies were really light escapist entertainment, without crude jokes or bombastic effects; without Vince Vaughan or Owen Wilson. Critics are eager to tell you this is a return to the Allen decline that preceded "Match Point." Don't believe them. He doesn't try too hard. Why should he? He may be 70, but verbally, he's still light on his feet. And his body moves pretty fast too.
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