August 28, 2006

Has Allen Lost His Touch

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Over the course of the last forty years, Woody Allen has stayed busy. He has written and directed about thirty-five films, starred in most of them, received twenty-one Oscar nominations, and married his ex-wife’s adopted daughter, making him the world’s sleaziest man (I guess some exploits are more impressive than others). Therefore, sometimes Allen likes to relax, and in films such as Hannah and Her Sisters (my personal favorite Woody film), casts himself in a supporting role, often to great comedic effect. However, in Allen’s latest film Scoop, his supporting role ruins the movie.
The film stars Scarlett Johansson as Sondra Pransky, a college newspaper journalist (unfortunately not for the Daily Sun) who stumbles across the scoop of a lifetime. Joe Strombel (Ian McShane of HBO’s Deadwood), a famous reporter, comes back from the dead to tell Sondra that the identity of the Tarot Card serial killer is famed aristocrat Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). Sondra employs the help of struggling magician Sid Waterman (Allen) and entraps Lyman in order to get her story. Sondra’s plans go awry however, when she begins to fall for Peter.
Johansson is very believable as Sondra. In Allen’s last film Match Point, Johansson excelled as a confident and sultry seductress. In Scoop, Johansson dresses down and plays the character as perky and nervous, giving Sondra a lot of credibility. During the scene when Sondra meets Peter, Johansson puts on a smile that seems one hundred percent genuine, which effectively ensnares him. Also, she more than holds her own during her screen time with Allen, frequently using exasperated facial expressions to express her disapproval with Allen’s trademark neuroses. My only problem with her performance is the fact that with her hair and glasses, Johansson looks startlingly like Mia Farrow, Allen’s ex-wife. I half expected to see devil worshippers come to take Johansson unborn child.
As I mentioned before, Allen is the film’s weak link. Rather than let the extremely talented Johansson take center stage, Allen bogs the film down with his all-too-frequent one-liners. Don’t get me wrong, I often find Woody Allen hilarious. But after forty years, his trademark character is wearing a bit thin. Besides, who would you rather see on screen, Scarlett Johansson or Woody Allen?
As Peter Lyman, Jackman is average at best. Nobody ever accused Hugh Jackman of being a comic genius (the man did Kate and Leopold for goodness sake), and in Scoop, his performance is extremely stiff. A funnier actor could have played the role of aristocrat/possible serial killer with over-the-top humor, but Jackman just plays it straight.
Allen’s script is mediocre. There are some good one-liners, such as when Allen quips “excitement in my life is dinner without heartburn.” However, such lines are few and far between. Many of the jokes fall flat and are just reprises of things he joked about thirty years ago in Annie Hall. Also, much of the plot is just not believable (and I am not even counting the supernatural part). I do applaud Allen for minimizing his usual conversations about intellectual topics such as opera, existentialism, Ingmar Bergman, and Tolstoy. Maybe he read my disapproval of such dialogue in my Match Point review last year (but probably not).
As for his directing, Allen can often have a delicate touch. One of my favorite examples is in Hannah and Her Sisters when Allen beautifully films the breathtaking architecture of New York. In Scoop, there is a scene which Allen utilizes a long shot after a murder has taken place, reminding me of the opening scene of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil. However, that scene is the only instance when Allen gets creative behind the camera.
I hate to keep comparing Scoop to Match Point, but if Allen wants to keep growing as a filmmaker, he needs to continue to make more films like Match Point and fewer films like the traditional and predictable Scoop. If he wants to keep casting Scarlett Johansson though, that is fine by me. I’d like to keep this review going, but I have to go; I just got a great scoop that the Collegetown Creeper is really Dick Cheney