Dir: Woody Allen. UK/US. 2006. 96 mins.

After a surge of sortswith last year's Oscar-nominated Match Point, Woody Allen's topsy-turvycareer slumps again with the featherweight Scoop. Having successfullypulled off a dark, Patricia Highsmith-esque thrillerset in London with Match Point, he applies the dizzy slapstick comedy ofThe Curse Of The Jade Scorpion and Manhattan Murder Mystery to aLondon setting in Scoop, which Focus Features is opening in NorthAmerica sans festival platform on July 28. The result is an intermittentlydiverting frippery with as much to irritate as amuse. Only the keenest Allen aficionadoswill forgive him his indulgences here.

Match Point grossed $23.1m in the US and more than $40m in internationalterritories; Scoop could ride its coat-tails for a week or two in eachmarket ("from the director of Match Point", declares the Focus poster).Domestically it will also benefit from its summer opening date, while theattractive star duo of Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman in the advertising materials can't hurt. It shouldoutdo Melinda And Melinda ($3.8m), AnythingElse ($3.2m), Hollywood Ending ($4.85m) and even Jade Scorpionitself ($7.5m).

Itsinternational appeal will be greater, although it is unlikely to get anywherenear Match Point numbers.

Thetone of whimsy is set from the start. Dispatched from this life at a relativelyearly age, hard-hitting investigative journalist Joe Strombel(McShane) is crossing the River Styx by boat to the afterworld when he is given a tip by a fellow passengerthat the identity of the Tarot Card Killer, a serial killer terrorizing London, is millionairearistocrat Peter Lyman.

Wethen meet Sondra Pransky, an American journalismstudent staying with friends (namely the very posh RomolaGarai and mum Carolyn Backhouse) in London, who has ambitions to bea star reporter. One day while attending the matinee showof American magician Splendini akaSid Waterman (Allen), she is plucked from the audience for a vanishing act in astanding box. But once inside the box, she is visited by Strombelfrom beyond the grave, He tells her the scoop aboutLyman and urges her to pursue it.

Sheenlists the reluctant support of Sid and the two of them begin a quest to getthe story by infiltrating Lyman's affluent life. But Sondra, who is posing asone Jade Spence, makes the classic rookie mistake: she begins an affair withthe man she is investigating and falls in love.

Althoughset against the backdrop of chic apartments, London landmarks and countrypiles, Scoop treats English society as a playground for the facetiousinvestigation of its resolutely American leads. It's ironic to see so manyfamous English names in tiny speaking parts - from FenellaWoogar to Paula Wilcox, John Standing, Charles Danceand Margaret Tyzack.

Johanssonis nonetheless delightful as Sondra and the Australian Jackmanefficiently suave as Lyman, but the 70-year-old Allen himself is a problem. Thenebbish shtick on which he hooks his on-screen persona is only mildly engaginghere and more often incongruous in the upscale London setting. Stuttering andstumbling through his dialogue, he is clearly getting too old to generate thecharm and laughs that poured so naturally from him in the guise of Alvy Singer, Miles Monroe or Danny Rose.

JellyRoll Productions, BBC Films, Ingenious FilmPartners

US dist
Focus Features

Hanway Films


Letty Aronson, Gareth Wiley


Remi Adefarasin




Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Romola Garai, Julian Glover