on July 28, 2006 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
Woody Allen's latest movie is further evidence of his inexorable descent into consistent mediocrity. Simply put, his films have become irrelevant, undistinguished and not terribly original. "Scoop," his 35th feature film as a director, is more of the same, cribbing in this case from his own earlier "Manhattan Murder Mystery," only with ghosts attached to the proceedings.

One of those spirits is a recently deceased muckraking journalist, Joe Strombel (Ian McShane from TV's "Deadwood"). True to his calling, even in the afterlife, Strombel can't let go of a good story. When he gets wind of the fact that a distinguished British Lord, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), may in fact be a notorious serial murderer -- nicknamed by the tabloids the Tarot Card Killer -- he has to figure out how to get the news out to the public. His vessel for that turns out to be Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an ingenuous American journalism student on holiday in London. She, in turn, convinces "Splendini" (Woody Allen), a second-tier magician to help her try to uncover the possible murderer.

Thin story aside, "Scoop" lacks any genuine suspense or real wit. Since Jackman is such a bland presence onscreen, there's no stake for the audience in caring one way or another whether he is actually guilty or merely an unfairly branded suspect. And Allen himself has become such an irritating and tiresome film presence that it's difficult to remember that he was once such a breath of fresh air in the movies. That leaves Johansson, back in her second Woody Allen film after "Match Point," and McShane -- fine actors both -- to try to elevate this film to a higher level. There's little they can do, however, straitjacketed as they are by this tepid, dull plot. "Scoop" may not be as contrived as "Match Point" was, but it's yet another nail in Allen's creative coffin. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane and Woody Allen. Directed and written by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson and Gareth Wiley. A Focus release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 96 min

Tags: Starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane and Woody Allen. Directed and written by Woody Allen, Produced by Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley, Focus, Comedy, Drama

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