Friday, September 7, 2012

Cinema 2006: "Scoop" provides laughs without scatology

A 1990s Webster’s college dictionary of mine lists 15 definitions for “scoop.” The title of the 2006 Woody Allen film refers of course to a news story revealed in one newspaper before all others. But the two schoolboys, goldbricking through their summer job at the multiplex where I saw “Scoop,” were densely unaware of the meaning of the one-word title. One hopes that kids at least can associate the term with ice cream.

As it happened, those dullards dragged their brooms and wrestled a garbage can on wheels while busying themselves with wagers on the alacrity with which Allen’s perfect crime mystery would disappear from their lenient employer’s marquee because “no one would be able to figure out what the title meant.” I was in the lobby at the time trying to avoid the numbing assault of previews, but the behavior of zombie teens and grade schoolers on cell phones soon sent me scurrying for a seat.

Granted “Scoop” is not a blockbuster, nor does it pretend to deal with the weighty issues of our times; it is instead what novelist Graham Greene might have termed “an entertainment.” As such, I see no reason why it should not demonstrate surprising staying power in movie theaters across the country.

After all, in these lousy times what better diversion than a well crafted murder mystery comedy full of Woody Allen zingers!?

In “Scoop” Woody is on screen as “Splendini,” a small-time magician whose tricks wow unsophisticated children while making eager audiences laugh nervously. Off-stage, Splendini carries that old Allen anxiety around with him like Pigpen’s dust cloud in the Peanuts comic strip.

The plot features more than a little whimsy. Allen’s character teams up with Scarlett Johansson’s Sondra/Jade, a self-proclaimed “ambitious” journalism student on vacation in London thanks to posh British friends. Allen’s Splendini perpetrates a charade as father to Jade to assist her as she stalks a Peer named Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) in an effort to expose him as a serial murderer and score a journalistic coup for herself in the process.

Some might find it a little creepy to watch Woody play daddy to 21-year-old Scarlett Johannson, but the whimsical nature of the story and Allen’s well established film persona overcome any lasting recriminations one might still harbor from the director’s soap opera of a personal life. Although my initial reaction was to laugh out loud when Allen’s character refers to his divorce and the reasons for it, when my conscience caught up with my funny bone, I felt uneasy, as if Allen had elicited that laugh specifically to rehabilitate himself and I had unwittingly played along.

At any rate, “Scoop” elicits quite a few laughs throughout its compact narrative. Just seeing Woody Allen at a poker table is hilarious, and the director leaves it to us to imagine what playing against his character must be like. However, some of the jokes are surprisingly stale, and while most of the dialog is as hysterical as real life, there are a number of scenes where the lines sound as if they are being delivered. It makes one wonder if Allen couldn’t budget for the needed additional takes or worse yet, if his razor-sharp wit could be dulling?

This is the second film in a row by Allen to be set in London and the surrounding English countryside. Unfortunately, we aren’t shown much of the British capital.

As for Johannson, the Allen favorite eventually warms to her role. The movie itself sputters at the beginning before hitting its stride. But despite bringing to the screen a somewhat hammy amalgam of voluptuousness and vulnerability, Johannsen here never quite delivers the presence or sincerity of the classic Allen heroine, say, Mia Farrow or Mariel Hemingway.

Jackman gets by on his pedigree and good looks, not unlike the cartoonish, upper class suspected killer and proven cad he plays in the film. As for Lyman’s seduction of young Jade, we are unable to fault the landed gentry in his case, since Lyman observes the social decorum of the dating ritual. It’s that old story: nubility attracts nobility, and feminine wiles can upgrade lifestyles. Besides, Jade’s girl talk with British friend Vivian (Romola Garai) reveals the mercenary mindset of these modern young women in affairs of the heart, so-called.

Allen deserves credit for making good use of a number of classical scores for his background music, and most impressively for recognizing the potential of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg as a catchy and suspense-building musical theme.

“Scoop” is a modest movie that delivers light entertainment built on wit in place of shit. It is a rare comedy these days that doesn’t step in scatology for its yucks. If I may paraphrase Splendini, “Scoop" is "a credit to its genre, and I say that in all sincerity and of course with the deepest respect from the bottom of my heart.”

No comments:

Post a Comment