Sunday, April 01, 2007

Scoop (2006)

(Woody Allen, 2006)

In a scene in Scoop, Woody Allen's character, neurotic magician Sid Waterman, tells Scarlett Johansson's character, journalism student Sondra Pransky, that his wife left him because he never grew up, never matured. Physically, Allen shows signs of maturity --- the white and grey hairs, the numerous wrinkles and his even more diminutive frame. Artistically, he seems to have stagnated; he never grew up and aside from the few surprising good works he's done in recent years, there's nothing really exciting, or defining as his past works like Annie Hall (1977) or The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Scoop is no different; it's drab, barely entertaining, and just a tad interesting.

It's a murder mystery set in London. It actually starts quite well: a famous Brit journalist (Ian McShane) has just died and while traversing the river to hell (heaven? hell no, with these journalist's vicious means of getting a scoop?), gets a reliable information from a fellow deceased that the son of a lord might be the dreaded Tarot Card Murderer. Death is no hindrance to the journalist to unravel a possible scoop, so he escapes death; contacts Sondra, the amateur journalist, while inside one of Sid's magic boxes and tells her everything he knows. Sondra, with the help of Sid, comes up with a plan to uncover the dark secrets of the suspected murderer Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman).

Allen again inhabits his usual neurotic character; yet in London wherein restraint and decorum are characteristic qualities, his quirks and usual monologues are ungainly and unimpressive. He clowns around the beautiful locales and among the demure upper class without much comedic effect, only a slightly absurdist touch, mostly unintended. Johansson fares much worse. She dons a pair of spectacles and brandishes her retainers; confidently showing off her transformation from naive bombshell of former roles to this nutty, outgoing, and manipulative Allen-esque femme. The only problem is that there seems to be no smooth transformation; Johansson mumbles her dialogue, she has no talent for physical comedy, and strives too hard to inhabit the same neurosis Allen's character has, unsuccessfully.

While it's a patent lack for comedy that betrays Johansson, it is also Allen's writing that's at fault. Allen conceives Sondra as a female version of his offscreen and onscreen self. Allen's obsession for Johansson is quite apparent --- the conversations between them tend to prolong endlessly. These exchanges aren't necessarily helpful to the plot, nor are they always funny (mostly amusing, to be honest), but there's a certain sense that they have to be there to satisfy Allen's ego; that there might exist a chemistry between him and Johansson, which sadly isn't true.

While the murder mystery stretches the imagination to a great extent, I would've preferred that believability remain intact. However, in Allen's mind, logic is thrown out the window to satisfy his cinematic and narrative quirks. A Brooklyn magician with absolutely no sense of stage finesse successfully lands a gig in London; a wealthy up-and-coming political figure of semi-royal background befriends and romantizes a girl she hardly knows, at a whim; among others. The film is really quite a mess; it's imaginative at times but fails in a way that is already very predictable with Allen.

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