London gave core-deep Manhattanite Woody Allen an invigorating shot of creative energy in last year's Match Point, a murder mystery of surprising moral gravity. Woody stayed on among the Brits to write and direct Scoop, also a murder mystery and also ring the delectable Scarlett Johansson, but otherwise a different shmear of cheese. And cheese is the operative word, at least regarding Woody's comic role as Sid Waterman, a geezer from Brooklyn doing his tacky magic act in London under the name Splendini. One night he plucks a volunteer from his audience to assist in a trick that has her enter a box and dematerialize. She's Sondra Pransky (Johansson), an American journalism student who Sid keeps calling Mandelbaum. "Listen, sweetheart," says Sid, "we all celebrate the same holidays." Them's the jokes. But it's no joke when Sondra climbs in the box and meets a ghost. He's Joe Strombel (Deadwood's Ian McShane), a journalist who has escaped a boat ride with Death to give her a scoop: Joe is convinced that Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), the son of a lord, is the "Tarot Card Serial Killer," and if Sondra nails him, the story will make her career.
The farce plays like something out of a time capsule, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. And I mean that sincerely, as Sid would say. While Sid helps Sondra catch the killer, Woody evokes the ghosts of borscht-belt jokes he's already recycled in films from Love and Death to Broadway Danny Rose. He also throws in a little Dreiser for ethical balance.
Somehow it works. Don't worry. Woody, 70, doesn't get the girl. Scarlett Jo, a potent combo of zaftig and zany, and Jackman, oozing killer charm, handle the sexual high jinks in style. The skilled cinematographer Remi Adefarasin casts a seductive glow on the sight of the rich enjoying their wicked privileges. Scoop is no more than a beguiling trifle. But in the dog days of summer, it's a perk to wallow in inspired silliness.