As Scoop's seedy, aging magician, "Splendini" (AKA Sid Waterman), Woody Allen appears to be having more fun on screen than he's had in years. He hobbles to and fro, whiny as ever, but with a subtle gleam in his eye—as if finally, beneath all the nervous tics and the stammering one-liners, he's learned to relax.
As with last year's similarly London-set Match Point, he's cast Scarlett Johansson, here struggling mightily (and unsuccessfully) to dull her sex appeal as nerdy journalism student Sondra Pransky. While attending one of Splendini's touring magic shows in London, Pransky finds herself a participant in one of his lame tricks: the old put-'em-in-the-box-make-'em-disappear gag. While in the box, a ghost visits her: A dead journalist (Ian McShane) who has returned to earth to relate his "scoop" to someone that might finish his story. He tells Pransky that the wealthy British nobleman, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), is actually a serial murderer. And so, Pransky sets off to find Lyman and expose the truth about him.
Where Match Point was a beautiful film, shot and edited with precision and grace, Scoop is a cheap-looking comedy stuffed with cheap jokes. Pransky and Splendini's friendship is perfunctory, existing only to advance the plot; same goes with her relationship with Lyman. Because he's who he is, Woody Allen gets the hottest actors in the business to be in his films—but it hurts to watch great actors like Jackman doing the cinematic equivalent of community theater. Allen's older, great comedies had an edge to them fueled mostly by his unrelenting anxiety and self-loathing. Now, he's comfortable in his skin, he finally likes himself, and the tension is gone. Remember how funny grandpa thought it was when he asked you to pull his finger? Scoop is like 90 minutes of that.