Killing Scarlett Johansson

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The New York Sun

With the surprise success of last year’s “Match Point,” it seems as though Scarlett Johansson in London might be the solution to Woody Allen’s cinematic troubles.

But Mr. Allen’s characteristic tics and hiccups have more sway on Ms. Johansson than her looks have on his new film, “Scoop.”

Like a nebbish deity, Mr. Allen has remade his new muse in his own image. If Kenneth Branagh’s impersonation of Mr. Allen in 1998’s “Celebrity” was a failure, Ms. Johansson’s performance in “Scoop” could turn people off to her films permanently.


Ms. Johansson’s character, an intrepid journalist named Sondra Pransky, is almost as bad a reporter as she is easy. In “Match Point,” the actress was cast as a scorching seductress and lived up to the role. Here men still fall for her, but it isn’t entirely clear why.

She has been stuck behind a silly pair of round wire-rimmed glasses, convinced that journalists are supposed to be slow and irritating twits (okay, maybe she’s got that one), and given a disturbing obsession with teeth.

Ms. Johansson has also acquired an irritating set of tics to play the part. She shuffles, fiddles with her glasses, and gesticulates aimlessly. At times she appears to have a hunch. While Ms. Johansson may not have a long string of demanding roles on her resume, she is usually an engaging and sensual presence on screen. Here she has been abused. Most terribly Mr. Allen has marred Ms. Johansson’s most important asset, her looks. Only for a momentary pool scene is she allowed to make use of her sun kissed, sex kitten look that has more than a little in common with Marilyn Monroe.


For a man who insists on playing against type as the love interest in most of his films, Mr. Allen exhibited an impressive amount of restraint in “Match Point,” leaving the acting to people who are paid to be beautiful and doing his work behind the camera. The film was almost unrecognizable as an Allen product and won the best reception he’s enjoyed in years.

But not so in “Scoop,” where his mark is everywhere. Mr. Allen appears as Splendini, a sheepish magician whose pleading eyebrows win over the audience. He compliments one character as “an incredible human being and a credit to your race” and follows insults “with all due respect.” As a cameo, this would be a great addition. But Splendini is a main player in this comedic mystery, about to embark on a reporting bonanza with Sondra Pransky.

He might be a hack magician, but when Splendini puts Sondra in his magic box during a show, she communes with the reanimated spirit of Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), a recently departed journalist sitting on an unbelievable tip from a shipmate he met on his trip down the River Styx with the Grim Reaper (quite a doozy, that scene).


It seems as though Peter Lyman, a prominent Lord’s son, may have poisoned his secretary when she learned that he was involved with the infamous Tarot Card Murders terrorizing London. Poor Joe Strombel has slung himself over the side of the Reaper’s boat looking for someone to pursue this fantastic scoop, only to end up in a box with Sondra Pransky, who for once isn’t putting out.

But when Sondra enlists Splendini (née Sid Waterman) to pursue the scoop, they set out to find Peter Lyman, who turns out to be a sexy Hugh Jackman, and Sandra can start using her “investigative” skills again.

Mr. Jackman has quite an uphill struggle himself — burdened with the task of playing an intelligent, suave Englishman who could fall for Ms. Johansson doing her best Woody Allen impersonation. At one point he tells her he was drawn to her accent and loves Americans, but their affair seems more like an affliction then an attraction.

When he mentions how stunning she was at their first meeting in the pool without her glasses, it gives the audience hope that she might look like that again under his guidance. No such luck. She has a story to screw up.

Indeed, as Sid and Sondra have no abilities as reporters, Strombel is repeatedly forced to ditch the Reaper to get them back on track.He rematerializes to eerily chant combination numbers, complete the investigation from the beyond, and generally fill in the blank plot points. But Sondra’s deceased journalism prof can’t solve everything.

“Scoop” does benefit from a beautiful setting, a strong supporting cast, and a few spot-on laughs, but most of the jokes ring all too true. Ms. Johannson seems almost gleeful when she declares to Mr. Allen’s character, “If we put our heads together you’ll hear a hollow noise.” And Mr. Allen gets to the exact problem of the film when he explains to some English gentlemen: “I was born into the Hebrew persuasion. But converted to narcissism.”

The New York Sun

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