Monday, March 22, 2010

Journalism student receives tip from ghost

It was a toss-up whether to post this review here or at the Watching the Detectives blog. The presense of the ghost made me choose to post it here.

Scoop (2006)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen, and Ian McShane
Director: Woody Allen
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Sondra (Johansson), a bubble-headed journalism student, is contacted by the ghost of recently deceased journalist Joe Strombel (McShane). He wants her to write the scoop he didn't have a chance to: That the dashing and handsome man-about-town Peter Lyman (Jackman) is actually a serial killer. With the help of a third-rate magician (Allen), Sondra goes about getting close to Lyman in order to gather the evidence needed to prove Strombel's accusation from beyond the grave, and get her scoop of a lifetime. But what will Sondra do once she starts falling in love with Lyman?

"Scoop" is a lightweight mystery comedy. The mystery isn't really much of a mystery, and the comedy is of a type that will make you smile rather than laugh.

The characters are, for the most part, well enough acted and the story moves along in a straight-forward fashion, unburdened by a desire on the part of the writer/director to show off his cleverness by throwing in either painfully predictable "twists", or developments that are completely unsupported by the plot. Allen avoids the very thing that dooms many movies of this type that are being made by younger, hipper filmmakers. My hat is off to him for not trying to make this movie seem any deeper than it is, but simply letting it stand as the plain little movie that it is.

I am also impressed by the way that an element of the film that bothered me at the beginning turned out to be one that I very much enjoyed by the end. There are scenes of characters on board Charon's barge as it crosses into the Afterlife, and the first couple of times Allen cut to this mystical scene, I was irritated, because I didn't feel it fit the nature of the film, despite the fact thee's a ghost popping in and out of the story. I felt it was too much of a fantasy element for a film that is, basically, grounded in the modern, everyday world.

However, by the end of the film, Allen pays off the River Styx scenes to the point where, looking back, they're probably the funnest part of the film.

One thing that isn't as fun is the character Allen plays in the film. His character is so socially awkward and downright dumb that it's painfully embarrassing to watch him attempt to mingle at the parties Sondra drags him to in her quest for dirt on Peter Lyman. It also doesn't help anything that there doesn't seem to be a connection between Allen and Johansson on screen--yes, they are delivering lines from the same script on the same set, but there's no sense that either actor is really paying attention to what the other actor is saying or doing. There's no spark between the two, and the comedic timing of every scene they have together is likewise off.

(It's tempting to say that Allen has "lost it" now that he's in his 70s, but this isn't so. He does fine in his scene with McShane, and he's okay when interacting with bit players and even Jackman... there simply seems to be something absent between him and Johansson. However, Allen must be happy with the result, because Johannsson is starring in at least one more Allen production.)

I think anyone who enjoys watching the lighthearted mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s will get a kick out of "Scoop". Those out there looking for a film with "twists" or lots of sex and violence are going to be bored. (Although Johansson fiills out a swimsuit quite nicely.)

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