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Scoop: Woody Wields a Sledgehammer
In "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), Woody Allen served up enough plot, wit, and wisdom to nourish a dozen films. This piercing study of morality in the modern world, especially as experienced by two Jewish gents, one highly ethical and one not, bears repeated viewings to uncover all of its nuances.
As for it hilarious bon mots such as the "Last time I was inside a woman was when I visited the Statue of Liberty," there are dozens of such sallies scattered throughout this often brilliant effort.
Seventeen years later Mr. Allen shovels up "Scoop," third-rate shtick with about four funny lines, an indigestible plot, and colorless performances. Unlike last year's delicious Hitchcockian traipse, "Match Point," "Scoop" makes you wish that this prolific director was a little less profuse. Maybe there's a good reason most directors don't helm a new feature every year.
Scoop's dismal plot centers on a serial killer who leaves a tarot card at the scene of each of his crimes.
A newly dead journalist, Joe Strombel (McShane), as he is crossing the river Styx, learns the supposed identity of the thug from the villain's fatally poisoned secretary. The culprit: the attractive aristocrat Peter Lyman (Jackman). Unable to shrug off such a coup, Strombel momentarily escapes death, reappearing during a magic trick to leak the info to a fledgling reporter, Sondra Pransky (Johansson).
This amateur of amateur writers quickly engages the hapless magician, Sid Waterman (Allen), to be her sidekick on this case. Maladroitness rules as Pransky finds herself being wooed by the Lyman, and Waterman, who makes believe he's Pransky's dad, constantly kvetches about everything.
What's sad about "Scoop" is that Woody's once beloved Jewish Everyman has finally overstayed his welcome.
Similar to Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp (who was retired in "The Great Dictator"), Allen's Ultimate Schlemiel, no matter what he's being called-Danny Rose, Alvy Singer, or Sid Waterman-is always the same pint-size, uncoordinated, misanthropic, befuddled Jewish intellectual.
According to Patricia Erens in "The Jew in American Cinema," "his character resembles the Jewish character type known as the Nebbish (or more properly the Nebbech, an innocuous, ineffectual, weak, helpless person, a loser) . . . . But what most defines Woody Allen, is an overriding sense of his difference from the rest of society-his place as the outsider, outcast, misfit."
This often-endearing soul sadly has lost his depth and ability to make you laugh in "Scoop." Mr. Allen has clearly forgotten how to direct himself. He has lost his sense of perspective. And quite possibly Allen, the character, does not belong in the 21st Century. Maybe more of Adam Goldberg's kosher superhero, "The Hebrew Hammer," is what we need today. Or Eric Bana's Avner in "Munich." Or Paul Newman's Ari in "Exodus." Or even some Jewish porn stars. Have you ever seen a sexploitation film with a hunk wearing a Jewish star or with a name like Moshe? Never.
Of course, in his Mr. Allen's next feature, his inconsistent genius might once again reemerge, and I'll have to eat my words. But then America's kosher conscience might have learned his lesson. He's only directing this upcoming effort.
Director/Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Robyn Kerr, Richard Stirling, Romola Garai, Carolyn Backhouse
Copyright © Brandon Judell 2006
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