Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Live Twitter Follow Up: Scoop

Since I just finished with my very first live movie viewing over at my Twitter account, I thought I should break in this new-fangled blog with a review of tonight's movie, Woody Allen's Scoop.

Woody Allen is, of course, a legend, and I am a huge fan of his work. That his work, of late, has been somewhat below the standard he set during his late 1970's - early 1980's heyday is hardly a point of contention. However, I'm not amongst those critics who universally deride his post-2000 work. I found Match Point taut and engaging, was won over despite the flimsiness of The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and even tried to redeem Anything Else by viewing it as a meta-level send up of the critics who say "Why can't he do Annie Hall again?" instead of a tired rehash of that film, as most critics believed it to be.

Unfortunately, Scoop doesn't seem to provide for any redemptive readings. It's not a BAD film, per se. There are certainly far worse ways to spend an hour and half. It's just not a particularly good film, and more's the pity.

The premise: Scarlett Johansson is a young American student journalist who keeps getting visits from an older, dead British journalist played by Ian McShane. She enlists stage magician Woody Allen to help her entrap aristocrat Hugh Jackman, whom McShane suspects of being a serial killer (having discovered the incriminating evidence only after his demise). Johansson assumes the role of a New-Money American socialite, with Allen portraying her faux-pas prone father.

Obviously, this isn't one of Allen's headier works. The plot is so thin as to be threadbare at points, and even if the exact nature of the "mystery" isn't blindingly obvious, most of what leads up to that revelation feels very well-worn and familiar. But although the premise sounds like the set-up for a perfectly tolerable farce about the roles people play, or at least a send-up of the class system and its foibles, the film eludes even such shallow depths of thought and focuses instead on bumbling, often misguided humor.

Despite Woody's assurances to the contrary, Scarlett Johansson is not a naturally funny screen presence. She forces her jokes, and seems to lack the instinct for good comic timing. Meanwhile, you know what you're going to get with Allen, but (not for the first time) you start to feel like his words sound better coming out of other actors' mouths. Jackman is fine as the aristocrat, and McShane is OK as the dead newsman, although neither is really given much to do.

The threadbare plot also has the unfortunate side effect of exposing the weaknesses of every tactic Allen calls upon. Despite seeing McShane escape from death by diving from the ferry to the afterlife, we never see his subsequent escape attempts and he becomes nothing more than a plot device to be employed as needed. Similarly, although Allen seems to be portraying a demonstrably bad stage magician, we are expected to believe that he is popular enough to tour England. Yet, he is neither so laughably bad as to merit ironic attendees, nor entertaining enough to make up for his ineptitude. We're left wondering if another actor might have handled things better. If the plot had actually been able to suck me in, perhaps these things would go unnoticed, but as it is they stick out like a bent nail.

To avoid "spoiling" anyone who might see the movie, I won't give away its denouement other than to say that it is, by far, the most preposterous part of the movie. The final "showdown" is confusing rather than clarifying, and the coda involving Allen's character is wholly unneccessary from a narrative perspective. As a whole, the film ends up like a rip-off of Allen's own Manhattan Murder Mystery mashed up with the absurd Cosby vehicle Ghost Dad, and makes for a thoroughly forgettable evening in front of the TV.

1 comment:

  1. You just had to bring Ghost Dad into it, didn't you?