Woody Allen's latest film, Scoop, would seem to have something going for it since he's staying in Great Britain and has Scarlett Johansson back with him after the intelligent, more dramatic Match Point.
A snappy, slight comedy is the order of business here that has Allen back on screen, along with Hugh Jackman (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Ian McShane (HBO's "Deadwood"). What unfolds is a screwball, ghostly murder mystery that conjures up memories of Manhattan Murder Mystery and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, even the stalking element of Husbands and Wives.
The writer-director's comfort zone avers a conversion to Narcissism after born into the Jewish persuasion. His prattling mind uses a mordant encounter to fabricate something light-hearted.
McShane's Joe Strombel is a crackerjack British journalist who gets a lead for a story as he isn't quite in the grasp of the grim reaper. Almost simultaneously, Allen's Splendini or Brooklynite Sid Waterman is performing his unexceptional magic act in London. The similarity to Jade Scorpion lies in Johansson's green young journalistic woman, Sondra Pransky, picked from the audience to walk inside the "De-Materializer". The apparition of Strombel lets the bespectacled Sondra in on his scoop from someone on their way to the Great Beyond.
So, a stunned Sondra and showman Sid become a detective duo in and around London, romanticized by lenser Remi Adefarasin (Elizabeth). They're looking for the "Tarot Card Killer" who could be the aristocratic Peter Lyman (Jackman).
Allen parcels out some of the Match Point social strata conflict in a comedic tone that has one reminiscing of more of his appealing, humorous efforts like Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Johansson acts the part of an Allen leading lady as the alluring blonde can be daffy but clever, soon falling for the charms of the debonair Peter, smoothly acted by Jackman.
Finding a serial killer to the sounds of elegant classical music as clues turn up in strange places has Sid and the love-struck Sondra changing their opinions about the upper-class handsome Peter. The mystery, romance, and the preternatural are shuffled up with coincidence and some glamour, but hardly a suave, translucent delight.
It's evident that Jackman, Allen, and McShane especially are having a good time in their parts, but exceed the material that dematerializes than is a scoop of those great 1930's studio comedies. Manhattan may be closest to his heart, but Allen is able to make London and its surroundings graciously stand out in a trite tale tailored by murder.