Woody Allen seemed to be losing it at the start of the twenty-first century. The films he released around that time (THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION, SMALL TIME CROOKS, etc.) failed to make a lasting (or for that matter positive) impression on audiences. In 2004 he enjoyed something of a comeback with MELINDA AND MELINDA before bursting back on the scene with his thrilling masterwork MATCH POINT. Now he's back to whip up another slice of cinema greatness, and this is a slice considerably sweeter than (though not as classy as) MATCH POINT. This is SCOOP, one of the most delightful romantic comedies of the year.
SCOOP revolves around Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an American college student eyeing a career in journalism. While vacationing in England with a friend, she visits a magic show run by the timid Sid Waterman (Woody Allen). Sid decides to use Sondra in a magic trick involving a box from which Sondra will supposedly disappear. Instead of disappearing, Sondra watches as famous - and recently diseased - journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) appears. Joe gives Sondra a tip on who may be the notorious "Tarot Card Killer" before vanishing into thin air. Now it's up to Sondra, along with incompetent magician Sid, to follow a lead from a dead journalist and investigate the man who may be a vicious serial killer: irresistible (and rich) bachelor Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman).
SCOOP is a compelling and thoroughly entertaining picture. It's not an unforgettable film, nor one that could be considered a moviemaking milestone. Much of the film's charm comes from the fact that it doesn't try to be. What it does try to be is a witty, entertaining, fun and funny mystery film, and that's exactly what it is. Much of the credit for this should go to Allen's taut, fine-tuned script. It has laughs a plenty, thrilling mystery, and not a slow spot in sight.
The rest of the credit goes to the cast. Though most people are accustomed to seeing Johansson portray scalding hot blonde bombshells in films like THE BLACK DAHLIA and MATCH POINT, her performance as a geeky young college student is surprisingly convincing. Jackman, as always, shines; he's every bit as charismatic as his character, and then some. With actors as great as these, it's a little surprising that Allen himself is the highlight of the cast. Sid the magician's foolishness isn't irking at all; in fact, it's immensely amusing, and Sid winds up as an almost adorable character rather than the bothersome twit he could have been. As a huge BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fan, I was also immensely pleased to see Anthony Stewart Head pop up toward the end of the film as a detective.
Ashamed as I am to admit it, as of this writing I have seen only one other Woody Allen film, MATCH POINT. Thus I can't make any remarks about where SCOOP ranks in comparison to Allen's many previous films. I can and will say this, however: SCOOP is a delight. It's not grand, and it doesn't try to be. It is what it is: a very entertaining, very funny, very fun film, and a great way to spend two hours.