Written and directed by Woody Allen

Starring Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane



Last night I dreamed that Scarlett Johansson and I spent a wonderful day getting to know each other, meeting unexpectedly because as it turned out we both share the same dentist and had to have work done that day in his office on West 55th Street. My analyst told me the dream was my way of sublimating my prurient interest in Ms. Johansson and turning it into something legitimate, since in reality I'm old enough to be her grandfather.

Not so Woody Allen, whose embarrassing new film "Scoop" shows that he still cannot keep at least his metaphorical hands off of young women. The film itself has a most workable premise: Na´ve young journalism student (Johansson) comes across a possible Jack the Ripper while visiting in London, and aided by the ghost of a famous journalist (Ian McShane) who's just died, she finds the scoop she's looking for, while falling for the possible murderer (Hugh Jackman). Oddly enough, had "Scoop" been made by another filmmaker it would have been a charming comic mystery, but in the hands of Mr. Allen somehow everything gets creepy. Allen is in the film as well, playing a second-rate magician who must pretend to be Ms. Johansson's father. But by now his stammering line delivery and his double-arm chops - his only 'acting' device - make us wince with embarrassment; what was fresh in "Sleeper" and "Love and Death" is maddening now.

"Scoop" has been called the obverse of Allen's "Match Point," a comedy to set across from that mystery; and "Match Point" was a fine film in the tradition of a good "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode. But "Scoop" spends so much screen time letting Allen do his shtick that we lose all interest in the story. He intrudes himself into scenes where he does not belong, repeating lines and gestures until we can recite them along with him. And the story itself is too thin to sustain even its 96-minute running time. It seems to evaporate even as we watch.

Let me give Mr. Allen his due, though: He opens and closes "Scoop" by putting us on Charon's ferry across the river Styx, with its group of newly dead schmoozing while they plan for their eternal futures. It's a delicious conceit and by far the best part of the the film, triggering the plot by letting Mr. McShane's character know to suspect Mr. Jackman. If only Mr. Allen had followed that lead.