Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Scoop

Here is the trailer for Scoop, Woody Allen's latest movie, again set in London and starring Scarlett Johansson. Woody Allen himself is in it, too, playing a magician. He picks out Johansson, a college journalist, as his audience volunteer for a hackneyed Chinese Box magic trick. But during the trick, she happens to be contacted by a ghost reporter (Deadwood's Ian McShane, a commanding presence even in his brief appearance here) who offers her a "scoop": that some famous aristocrat (Hugh Jackman) is actually a notorious serial killer.

Johannson and Allen set out to investigate, and despite their suspicions, Johannson ends up falling for Hugh Jackman, as would we all.

Pluses:

The trailer itself is peppy and fun, complete with cool animated titles you'd never find in an actual Woody Allen movie.

I always welcome Allen as an onscreen presence in his movies, and here he seems to have wisely restricted himself to a role as a goofy sidekick rather than leading man. He does well in this capacity, and his supporting role in Anything Else was the only redeeming part of an otherwise terrible movie.

There is a promising Manhattan Murder Mystery feel here, and the movie seems to have an actual story, which is comforting after misfires like Hollywood Ending and Melinda and Melinda.

Scarlett Johannson appears to be pretty good at the comic sparring with Allen, putting a believable spin on one-liners that could easily sound corny.

And isn't it nice that the trailer can say "From the director of..." and list a recent movie that wasn't terrible? Finally, a Woody Allen movie trailer that doesn't have to be ashamed of Woody Allen.

Minuses:

The magician thing feels perilously close to the hypnotist conceit used to springboard the dull Curse of the Jade Scorpion. In the future, Allen should beware of hanging his plots on vaudeville acts that no one ever performs anymore. To be fair, though, Jade Scorpion was at least a period piece.

While it looks like there's a clear story here, Allen has tricked us before. The "blind director" premise of Hollywood Ending turned out to be a small part of a much more muddled movie, and the "robbery" plot of Small Time Crooks took a hard left at the end of the first act. The unpredictability would have been welcome except that it led to a culture-clash story that was less interesting than the robbery.

Scoop risks a double-high-concept premise, in effect asking its audience to suspend its disbelief twice instead of the standard once. Not only does Scarlett Johannson get story tips from a ghostly reporter, a premise that could carry an entire film on its own, she also goes undercover to investigate a suspected serial killer and ends up falling for him, which could also be its own movie. Plus the suspected killer is a handsome aristocrat, which isn't quite a movie but is another rather large leap for the audience.

Multiple high concepts dare the audience to laugh a movie right off the screen. Here's an especially bizarre example coming up from Michel Gondry:

Be Kind Rewind

A man ([Jack] Black) whose brain becomes magnetized unintentionally destroys every tape in his friend's video store. In order to satisfy the store's most loyal renter, an aging woman with signs of dementia, the two men set out to remake the lost films, which include Back to the Future, The Lion King, and Robocop.


I know, what the fuck? But hey, I'm curious.

Anyway, in the right hands--say, Charlie Kaufman's--overloading a movie with concepts can be daring, unconventional and uniquely impressive. I hope that's the case with Scoop, but much of Allen's recent work suggests that it may just be undisciplined storytelling. We'll see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I assume that Scoop is based on the Evelyn Waugh novel of the same title. When will Allen start writing his own material?