Monday, September 10, 2012

Scarlett Johansson Almost Earns Her Pay In A Crappy Woody Allen Murder Mystery: Scoop

The Good: Scarlett Johansson's acting almost impressed me, Cameo by Anthony Head
The Bad: Woody Allen is very much Woody Allen here, Predictable plot, Character, Not funny
The Basics: In an overall disappointing movie, Woody Allen breaks character to portray his most famous persona and Scarlett Johansson's acting channels one of the leads from That 70s Show.

For that one person who is following my reviews (or the likely more who are fans of Scarlett Johansson and find my reviews and continually get irritated as I fail to find a performance from her that impresses me), my quest to find a movie where Scarlett Johansson's performance justified my faith and interest in her almost came to an end when I saw the woody Allen film Scoop. My experience with Woody Allen thus far is fairly limited. I have seen Small Time Crooks (reviewed here!) and Everyone Says I Love You has been on my list for years. There is a wonderful joke in The Simpsons where one of the characters asks, "Did you see the latest Woodsy Allen movie?" to which the response is "No . . . I like Woodsy Allen movies, except they always have that nervous guy in them." Watching Scoop, I came to feel that way rather quickly.

When veteran newspaper reporter Joe Strombel dies, he learns the identity of a serial killer stalking the streets of London and escapes death to give the tip to a budding American journalist who is in London. Sondra Pransky meets the spirit of Strombel while in a magic trick being performed by Splendini, commonly known as Sid Waterman. Sondra enlists Sid's help in tracking down the wealthy Peter Lyman, son of Lord Lyman. Sondra begins to search for clues that Peter is actually the Tarot Card Killer, though she inadvertently falls in love with him.

And so it goes.

Scoop suffers as a comedy because it is, quite simply, not funny. I laughed once during the movie and that was near the very end. Sid makes a comment about helping the police because "They've never solved a murder investigation" here. It's well-timed and well-delivered. It's also not enough to sit through the other ninety-five minutes for, though. As a murder mystery, the movie fails because it is not serious enough; it is not a real investigation.

But most of all, Scoop fails because for far too much time in the movie, Woody Allen dominates the screen. I write that not because Allen is not talented, but because the character of Sid is not Sid long; he very quickly degenerates into Woody Allen performing for our benefit. And it's nothing new. Nervous, awkward, fast-talking, deliver a witty line (a la Oscar Wilde) and walk around, that's the performance Woody Allen almost universally gives and here it is no different. We get the schtick, it's just not funny anymore. We've seen it before. Ad nauseam.

But even that simply does not fit organically into this story. All of the rest of the characters click on some level and their failures revolve around their acceptance of Sid. So, Sondra - portraying a woman named Jade who she interacts with Peter as - first gets her clues from Sid, but then she keeps him around for no compelling reason. After the initial meeting, once Sondra has the information from the ghost of Joe Strombel, Sondra has no practical reason for keeping Sid around. There's no justification for continuing their relationship or his place in the movie. Except, as writer and director, Woody Allen keeps him around. All other plot activity that keeps Sid in the movie - i.e. Strombel's ghost appearing to him later on - happens only because the movie is engineered that way.

Sid - and Allen - are like a bright blue puzzle piece in an otherwise solid red puzzle.

And that brings us to the other actors. Hugh Jackman is wonderful as Peter Lyman. He gives a strong, cool dramatic performance that sells us completely on his character. Charles Dance appears too briefly as the newspaper editor Sondra goes to, but he is wonderful in his scenes and convincing as a knowledgeable expert in the field. And Anthony Stewart Head (a favorite of fans of VR.5 and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) delivers his lone line wonderfully in his cameo at the end of the movie.

But much of the film hinges on Woody Allen, who is not so much acting in this movie as presenting his usual shtick and one-liners, and Scarlett Johansson. I was enjoying Johansson's performance in the beginning of Scoop. It was different from anything I had yet seen her in. She was not merely playing dress-up as in A Good Woman and has a substantial role, unlike in The Prestige (reviewed here!). The problem, for me, arose when she began to emote. When she had to raise her voice and express an emotion (starting with anger and a lack of patience with Sid), she lost me because I sat watching her performance and saying "I like this, but it feels real familiar." And then I realized why that was. Scarlett Johansson plays Sondra like Laura Prepon (of That 70s Show) would. Johansson is playing Prepon playing Sondra. The acting here is completely imitative and Johansson takes on the cadences, facial expressions and body language of Prepon for her presentation of ire.

That was pretty much the last straw for me in an already weak movie. Johansson's failure to pop and present a performance that remained original and relevant - and in character - sucked down an already weak script and character concepts. Everyone Says I Love You is still on my list to see, but I can honestly say even fans of Woody Allen will not find anything to crow about in Scoop.

For other works with Ian McShane, please visit my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Death Race
Babylon 5: River Of Souls


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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