'Scoop': Just Kill the Story

Friday, July 28, 2006

Woody Allen's "Scoop" opens on the River Styx, where today's boatload of souls is headed toward the far shore, among them one Joe Strombel, a Fleet Street newshound who has made his last deadline. But on this slow boat to nowhere, Joe (Ian McShane) runs into the recently murdered secretary of an aristocratic bounder (Hugh Jackman) and learns that her employer is a serial killer horrifying London. That's a last scoop too powerful for him to ignore, so he leaps off the boat and in some slightly immaterial form (he comes, he goes) heads back to the land of the living to get the big story into the papers.

It gets a lot lamer. Back in the real world, Joe seeks someone to bond with, to impart his information to, and to mentor. For no apparent reason, he gives his scoop to Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an American journalism student in London trying to break into big-time newspapering. Does he do this on the street? No, he does it in the middle of a magician's entry-level disappearing-woman trick on a London stage. Sondra, in the process of "disappearing," encounters Joe, who has suddenly materialized in her box for no good reason, while outside it the Great Splendini (Allen himself) is hocus-pocussing to beat the band.

Basically the movie decodes into a Hardy Boys-level mystery. It's not, of course, that comedies must display documentary realism on this sort of thing. You forgive anything in a movie if it's funny. "Scoop" is never funny enough -- except for the odd, whiny Allen gibe, mainly because it recalls better days -- to achieve this dispensation; the lack of realism becomes a crippling attribute.

This gives nobody, least of all me, any pleasure, but a truth must be faced: "Scoop" is the worst movie Woody Allen has ever made.

-- Stephen Hunter

Scoop PG-13, 100 minutes Contains sexual content. Area theaters.

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