I admit I am not a big Woody Allen fan, but I enjoyed some of earlier work as well as some of his more recent films, such as last year's Match Point, which was also unlike anything he had done before. With Scoop, Allen stays in London, instead of New York, but settles comfortably back into his familiar style, including a major role for himself.
Sandra (Scarlett Johansson) is an American journalism student vacationing in London. While participating at magician Splendini's (Woddy Allen) performance, the ghost of reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) appears before her. Apparently he's gotten a fantastic tip from beyond the grave, indicating that Peter Lymen (Hugh Jackman), Lord Lymen's son, is the serial killer known as the Tarot Card Killer. The Tarot Card Killer has murdered a number of prostitutes around the city. He urges Sandra to investigate and expose the biggest story of her life.
With the help of her high society friends and Splendini (Sid Waterman in real life), Sandra manages to get close to Peter by posing as a naive actress named Jade Spence. Despite her suspicions, Sandra falls in love with Peter and becomes confused. The clues she finds point to Peter as the killer, but she can't believe such a charming, loving, extremely wealthy bloke could ever kill. Sid thinks otherwise and urges Sandra to be careful as her relationship with Peter becomes deeper and more dangerous.
Johansson once again plays a pretty, naive American girl. After her interesting portrayal as a temptress in Allen's Match Point, her performance here just seems phoned in and artificial, not to mention typecast. As usual, Allen (Hollywood Ending) plays himself – a neurotic, babbling, witty-in-an-irritating-way simpleton who's coerced into unlikely situations. He has some great lines, but his presence becomes grating after a while.
Jackman (X-Men: The Last Stand) gets to play a charming, privileged English gentleman and he aces it. Deep down you know you can't really trust the guy – he's just too good to be true. However, I did not get a lot of chemistry between him and Johansson, and that makes their romance rather forced. McShane (Deadwood) also has a fun time playing a dead guy obsessed with the story of his (after) life.
Written by Allen, the story requires a huge suspension of disbelief. The supernatural nature of Joe Strombel's ghost sets the tone of the film early on. At times, it seems as if Allen didn't really know whether he was making a comedy or a mystery. His own character's incessant babbling is amusing to a point; after a while, it becomes self-indulging, and I can't help but think, what does it have to do with the plot? In fact, part of the story involving Sid, especially near the end, could have possibly been cut.
Scoop is a letdown in every way after the taut and psychological Match Point, with which we had a case study of how wonderful a writer-director can be if he would simply become transparent and fade into the background. However, with Scoop, Allen is everywhere, and the self-gratifying aspect of the film becomes a nuisance after a while. Granted, there is a certain whimsical aspect of the film that has the trademarked Woody Allen charm and wit. The dialogue is cute and lovely at times. But the plot is thin and predictable, the characters superficial, and the direction unfocused. The editing is choppy and there are minor characters that don't serve any purpose. I only ask: Is this the same writer-director who gave us Match Point last year?
Perhaps it's not fair to Allen. Perhaps we should simply consider this film for what it is and stop comparing it with his other works. In that case, Scoop is adequate entertainment. And here's the scoop: this is one of Allen's more juvenile undertakings, and that's not necessarily a bad thing – if we know not to have high expectations.