Monday, November 13, 2006
Woody Allen's move away from his beloved New York for his last film Match Point, the first of a two-movie deal with BBC Films, was a great surprise, a venture into Chabrol territory for the fiercely moral tale of an arriviste murderer. I sat in a cinema at Bastille as the closing credits rolled surprised that there had not really been one laugh worth talking about in the film. Not that I was bothered, and of course Woody has made unfunny films before, such as September, Interiors, Alice and Another Woman. It was however the quality of the film that most surprised me, particularly given the awfulness of so many of his films over the past fifteen years, so bad that I have seen very few of the films he was turned out at his usually fearsome rate in the past four years. Now he is back, swiftly as ever, with Scoop, a black comedy (and no relation to the one of the same name by Evelyn Waugh), again set in the English haute bourgeoisie and again starring Scarlett Johansson as an American interloper.
Unfortunately Scoop fails to reach any of the heights attained by its predecessor. In fact, if anything, it represents a drearily familiar resettling into the groove of mediocrity that Allen has occupied for so long. Johansson is a young American student journalist who, visiting London, is told by the ghost of a recently deceased Fleet St hack that a notorious serial killer is the scion of one of England's oldest and most illustrious families. As this happens while she is being 'dematerialised' on stage by Allen's vaudeville illusionist, she inveigles him into assisting her in getting closer to the young toff, played by Hugh Jackman, and closer to her big story. So far so Manhattan Murder Mystery but the resemblance to that film is merely cosmetic and it has none of its humour or wit. The film riffs tiresomely on jokes about the British that only the most provincial Americans will find remotely funny or original, while Allen's magician is given lines so dull and cheesy that one wonders if the once-great director is wilfully parodying himself. Jackman gives a decent turn as the possibly murderous blueblood but Johansson, whose supposed acting abilities have always eluded me, is embarrassingly bad in a manically screwball role. Her comic timing is woefully inept and she never convinces as the single-minded, ambitious young newshound she is supposed to be. I almost feel like pining for the petulant sulking she indulges in that successive directors mistake for mystery and depth. There is little in Scoop to recommend a viewing and one wonders if the ageing Allen will ever make a great film again.