Written by Films


I love stories set in newspapers. Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop is quite probably my favourite ever book – riotously funny. TV has had its fair share of programmes set around plucky newspaper reporters; most recently State of Play, but I even remember Lytton’s Diary! And then there are films. Another favourite is The Day The Earth Caught Fire set in the offices of the Daily Express (back in the sixties I should rapidly point out).
I also quite like the films of Woody Allen. I’ve not seen every film, and I’ve missed a couple of his more recent entries like Melinda and Melinda, and Match Point. I suppose that like many others, I was put off a bit by the little local difficulty he had in his personal life.
But when I heard he’d made another film in Britain (Match Point was too), and it was set in the newspaper world, I was intrigued and looked forward to it. The fact that it starred Scarlett Johansson was no bad thing either.
Woody no longer gets big releases. He makes films as regularly as clockwork and I guess the sums all add up because the same people go and see them, and the studios keep backing them. Big name actors love to work with him (for much reduced fees one suspects) and the whole thing ticks over nicely.
Scoop (nothing to do with aforementioned Waugh novel) was released in the US last summer, and has since opened in a number of countries around the world. But noticeably, not Britain.
This is unusual in that there’s a reasonable following for Woody over here, and the film was actually made here. On top of that, many famous British faces have parts to lesser or greater extents (mainly lesser, but we’ll come to that). The latest word I hear is that no British distributor is going to pick up the film. So aside from the odd festival screening, it’s likely to first pitch up on DVD or TV. The latter is a dead cert. since BBC Films co-produced the film.
I picked up a North American copy of the DVD to see the film, getting impatient with obviously foolish distributors in the UK. It couldn’t be that bad could it? I mean as well as Johansson, the film stars Hugh Jackman and Ian McShane as well as Allen himself!
Well, I’m sorry to report that it really is that bad.
Woody has something of a starring role in the film alongside Johansson. She plays a young American visiting her British friend (the thoroughly underused Romola Garai), and she also happens to be a cub reporter on her college newspaper. For very feeble characterisation reasons, she stalks a famous film director (Kevin McNally in practically a cameo) and immediately jumps into bed with him to get her story. She fails.
Then she goes off with her friend to see a magic show being conducted by Woody Allen. I’m not quite sure where such magic shows are held, but they find one nonetheless. Allen’s character is a hackneyed conjourer with a supposedly razor-sharp wit. But it isn’t really. And Allen just plays Allen as he always does. Johansson is chosen from the audience to be made to vanish in a wooden box, but whilst inside she meets the ghost of legendary tabloid hack Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Stay with me. He’s been told in the afterlife that the renound “Tarot Card Murderer” who’s killing prostitutes all over the streets of London is actually playboy rich-kid Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman).
Johnansson and Allen team up in the most unlikely manner to try to get close to Jackson and find out if he’s the real murderer. This will be her big break after all!
What follows is a mess. The jokes are feeble, with more laughs in the average episode of My Family. The dialogue is poor, and the plot just freewheels along on its own without any care for logic.
Along the way, every incidental character our heroes run into is a famous face playing blink and you’ll miss it roles. Especially bad is Charles Dance playing the editor of The Observer, and forced to say lines that he practically winces at on camera so terrible are they.
The end comes relatively quickly and you’re not exactly surprised.
The only reason I stayed with this film is because I’d paid good money for it, and as I say, Johansson’s not exactly unappealing on the eye. But the film is a stinker. Expect to see it cropping up sometime between Christmas and New Year on BBC2 without too much fanfair despite its stellar cast.
I see that Allen’s next film, Cassandra’s Dream, has also been made in Britain – it simply can’t be any worse than Scoop.