Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

WOODY ALLEN’s latest movie has something of an uphill battle of expectations to climb. His last film, Match Point, was very close to being a career high point; it’s certainly the only Woody Allen effort that even the most fervent of Allen non-appreciators could list on a film favourites list. It seems slightly unfair, but then, the only fitting way to compare and rank Woody Allen films is to measure them against former glories and former flops by the same man.

I’m of the opinion – as a fan of Woody Allen’s writing and filmmaking – that even his B-grade material is better than other people’s A-grade stuff. But, of course, the flipside to that idea is that, to non-fans, Allen’s B-grade work isn’t even as good as other people’s C-grade offerings. That is the problem we face when discussing a filmmaker who so actively celebrates his own cult. Perhaps that in itself was the reason that Match Point proved so successful? To the casual Woody Allen watchers (and to the complete non-fans) this was a movie that existed quite apart from the fact that Allen made it. It was a terse thriller/drama set in London and whilst (to those in the know) the ever-observant eye of Allen from Interiors and The Other Woman was behind the lens, the very fact that Allen himself was out of view meant that the film could actually be enjoyed on its own merits.

But Scoop is a return to the light-hearted farce that Allen has often indulged himself with; the half-a-decent-idea movies that he trots out in and around the very good movies. So Scoop is not quite Shadows And Fog or Crimes And Misdemeanors – and whilst it is not quite as consistent as Small Time Crooks it is a better watch than Hollywood Ending; more in line with The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion. This is not a bad thing – other reviews have snidely suggested that this is Allen repeating himself. News flash: that’s what he does! Scoop’s version of the Woody Allen character (vaudevillian magician ‘The Great Splendini’, aka Sid Waterman) definitely comes from the Jade Scorpion and Small Time Crooks schmucks that Allen effortlessly epitomises (or for that matter his segment from the New York Stories trilogy, Oedipus Wrecks). But, and this is a crucial point, he knows this. Having film reviews point this out is not helpful to fans of the man’s work. We pay our money – we know what we’re going to get.

So, to the actual movie: it’s an easy watch. Allen is definitely missing the cerebral humour – and the ruminations on existentialism – that so ingeniously weave in and around the scripts of his finest work (whether your favourite cup happens to be Love & Death or Deconstructing Harry). But not all of the jokes fall flat. He still has some zingers that only he can deliver: “I don’t see the cup as half empty, I see it as half full –half full of poison!”

The return of Scarlett Johansson is welcome. Supposedly Allen wrote the script for her, after being so thrilled with Match Point. At any rate, Johansson does a decent job of attempting comedy – she shrugs of the ingénue/flaky sex-kitten roles which will continue to plague her. She delivers his lines more than decently (“if we put our heads together, you’d just hear a hollow sound”) and, of course, is still easy on the eye. That fact, because of genetics, will never change.

The plot is largely inconsequential – as you will chose to go to this film, or avoid it, for two reasons. You either love (or hate) Woody Allen. Or, you love (or hate) Scarlett Johansson. Those are the reasons to go (or not go). But for those still reading who would like an indication of the story, here goes: Johansson is an American journalism student staying with rich friends in England. A British journalist who has recently died receives the titular scoop – and via Allen’s magician medium, communicates his tip-off to Scarlett’s plucky would-be writer. The Tarrot Card Murderer (a doff of the cap to Jack The Ripper) is apparently the well-to-do son of a famous lord (Hugh Jackman). In attempting to research the case, Johansson falls for Jackman. She has to disguise her sidekick (Woody) by saying that he is her father. There are plenty of jokes. And it is reasonably well tied together.

Some critics have referenced that given Woody Allen’s personal history it is rather creepy to see him playing the father-figure to Scarlett Johansson; a woman he clearly desires. But I recognise that Allen is always at his best when subverting his film-life and private life. It’s similar to Deconstructing Harry’s tone, where he dances around the tough home-truths. The only problem is Scoop really isn’t that wonderful. It’s merely a decent-enough way to coast through 90 minutes. It won’t earn the Woodster any new fans. But it shouldn’t have him lose any of his dedicated cult. He’s made worse films than this. Far worse. And hopefully, once again, he will make better ones. The good news is, with his productivity levels, we’ll likely have less than a year to wait.