Woody Allen's second film shot in the UK is about Sondra (Scarlett Johansson), a doh-brained journalism student from America who is staying in England over the summer with her upper-class family friends. When she takes part in a magic trick in Splendini's stage show she receives a tip-off about a murder story from back-from-the-dead reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Splendini (Woody Allen), whose real name is Sid Waterman, accompanies Sondra on her precarious investigation of the lead, which brings them into contact with high-class businessman and politician Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), a Lord's son, whom they are told is responsible for the unsolved serial Tarot Card Murders.
As Match Point was a British remake of Crimes and Misdemeanors, so Scoop* is a refashioning of Manhattan Murder Mystery. It is an enjoyable, light film, taking itself less seriously than Match Point did, and thus has no jarring changes of tone, as happened when the earlier London film brutalized towards the end. The plotting feels smoother and the conclusion less of an afterthought than his previous film.
Johansson's character is ditsy and, after some initially awkward scenes, the Allen-Johansson double act functions well as they botch their way through their hunt for clues to connect Peter Lyman to the murders. McShane spends the film escaping from Death's boat to the Underworld to give Sondra and Sid clues, having been told the scoop by Lyman's poinsoned former secretary.
Allen seems more confident in his portrayal of his London fantasy world of high society, much like the New York rich set that probably doesn't exist either. The locations are more low-key: he does not gawp up at the Royal Albert Hall, for example, as he dallied past Buckingham Palace in Match Point like a tourist. He also seems more comfortable with the British English idiom, even poking fun at it with Sid's refrain "I love you, really. With all due respect, you're a beautiful person. You're a credit to your race." The soundtrack is full of atmospheric classical music rather than his more familiar jazz score, partly because it is a mystery film, not a comic romp.
One wonders why, in December 2006, this has yet to be released in the UK. (I watched this film at the seedy Museum Lichtspiele in Munich, Germany, where they have been showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show every week since its release in 1975. There is no - or ineffective - heating, ineluctable popcorn and Coke spillage, and buzzing, faulty speakers.) Is it to be another Hollywood Ending and sneak below the UK distributors' radar? Surely Woody Allen has earned the reputation by now to be treated with more respect.
Nugget: good to have you back.
* NB This has nothing to do with Evelyn Waugh's eponymous 1938 novel about the bumbling war correspondent William Boot sent to Abyssinia.