Friday, August 11, 2006

Scoop (2006)

Woody Allen follows up his best film in years with his best comedy in years; apparently, the air in England has recharged his muse. His timing, both as an actor and a director, haven't been this relaxed since the mid-'90s -- one of the worst things about his Dreamworks period was the sense, in films like Small Time Crooks and Hollywood Ending, he was forcing the funny. He was leaning on his trademark schtick and didn't want to admit that maybe he needed to take a break. One of the fun things about this film, then, isn't just that Allen's loosened up a bit; it's that part of the joke is indeed how, on some level, he's recycling all his old material. Take a look at the opening magic-act setpiece and watch Allen's mannerisms: The tricks he's performing are old hoary chestnuts and he knows it. He goes the entire distance of the scene wearing an expression halfway between a grimace and a smirk, like he can't believe he's still doing these old jokes and the audience still goes for it. He knows it's old, we know it's old, the point is do we laugh? The answer this time aroud at least is yes. There's a lot of solid laughs in this film, thanks to Woody and Scarlett Johannson, who demonstrates that she has the rare ability to deliver Woody-speak without it sounding like Woody-speak. Ian McShane isn't given enough to do, sadly, but it's nice to see his career resurgence continue apace -- he did some great work in the '70s in Britain, and I was always bummed that he faded away. Best line, and possible perfect epitaph for Woody: "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but I coverted to narcissism sometime in the '40s."

Grade: B


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