Writer/director Woody Allen, best known for his celluloid love affair with Manhattan, has chosen London as the backdrop for Scoop. There, visiting American journalism student Sondra Pransky goes to a stage show and gets pulled up to help third-rate magician, Sid Waterman (aka Splendini), with his act. Sid, soft-shoeing through his tired routine, places Sondra in a Chinese box for the dematerializing bit. However, while in the box, Sondra meets the unexpectedly materializing ghost of Joe Strombel, a recently deceased reporter. Unable to pursue the "scoop of a lifetime" himself due to his post-life status, Joe entrusts it to her and Sid.
Based on clues Joe gives, Sondra and Sid must slog about London—through grand manors and English gardens—hunting down a man who has become known as the Tarot Card Killer. In that pursuit they meet handsome and suave Peter Lyman, son of Lord Lyman. And Sondra must decide if she will fall in love with this hunk or prove that he's a murderer.
At first, Sid is very reluctant to help track down the strangler. Sondra pleads, "But he could just kill at any moment." Sid retorts, "I heard that part, that's when I decided to make other plans." But ultimately, he not only gives his time and energies to help, he puts his life on the line to save Sondra. She, meanwhile, seemingly selfish in her motivations for most of the movie, finally decides to bring the murderer to justice even if it means giving the scoop away.
Sondra's guilt over lying to Peter (to get close to him) grows as her feelings for him deepen. Late in the film, she is convinced that Peter is innocent and, even though she fears it will ruin their relationship, feels compelled to be honest with him about her duplicity.
Revealing a little of his paternal feelings for Sondra, Sid says, "You're the daughter I never had" (but then he goes on to joke, "I'm kidding, I never wanted to have kids"). Peter believes Sondra to be drowning and comes to her rescue. And Joe expresses his professional ethic with, "Get it first, but first, get it right." Along those same lines, a seasoned (living) newspaperman lectures Sondra on the benefits of avoiding libel by refraining from running a story before all the facts are clear.
Theatrical silliness, mostly, in this category. At the beginning of the film, we see Joe Strombel's funeral set in a church chapel. The dedicated reporter is then seen riding down the river Styx on death's barge where he happens to hear information that could lead to a great story. He slips overboard to swim back to the living and the hooded Death must go back to claim him. Through the rest of the story, he appears and disappears apparition-style as he slips from Death's grasp and is reclaimed over and over again.
Also, Sid, in his ever rambling way ("You're a wonderful person and a credit to your race. God bless you. God love ya"), runs up upon the subject of religion from time to time. In one scene he is talking to a guest at a party and asks her what religion she follows. She tells him she's a Christian. He responds with, "I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism."
The villain is called the Tarot Card Killer because he leaves a tarot card next to each of his prostitute victims. In trying to find clues about the murderer, Sondra pretends that she is into new-age spirituality: "astrology, crystals and tarot."
As if this film had been made 40 years ago, sexual contact is never shown (other than casual kissing). But it is directly implied with scenes before or after the event. For example, while seeking an interview, Sondra (from a supposedly conservative family of dental professionals) readily gives herself to a film director. When we see her later, she tells her friend that she got drunk and had sex with the man. Her friend replies with the equivalent of "Oh, well" and takes her out to a show. Sondra expresses regret not for having been promiscuous, but for having failed to "get the story" in the process.
Her sexual attitude is no less cavalier when she finds herself attracted to Peter. While showing her around his house, he kisses her and seductively suggests he might "show her upstairs" and she doesn't hesitate. Afterward, he is seen naked from the waist up in bed and she is wrapped in a very long towel. They couple at least once again before the story concludes.
Several of the outfits Sondra and her friend wear reveal a little cleavage. Sondra is seen in nothing but Peter's shirt and in a one-piece swimsuit (Peter tells her later that he can't get the picture of her wearing the latter out of his head). A tour of Peter's house shows a painting of a partially nude woman.
Sondra is grabbed and thrown into a lake to drown. A car crashes offscreen and later we find out that it resulted in a death. Central to the plot is the fact that a dozen prostitutes have been strangled, though no crime scenes are shown.
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen or so exclamations of God's name (twice it is paired with "d--n"). Jesus' name is abused four times. There is one "h---."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sondra and others are shown drinking wine and mixed drinks in party and dinner situations. Sid tosses out a drug reference while expressing his incredulity about something with: "I don't know what you've been smoking, but don't try to bring it through customs."
Other Negative Elements
Sid and Sondra fabricate names, tell people that they are father and daughter, and generally lie about everything in order to work their way into Peter's good graces. Also, Sid nudges up against sensitive racial issues when he jokes that even a hint of anti-Semitism prompts "those people" to write letters.
Scoop is a somewhat rare commodity in today's cinema world. It's a PG-13 comedy that veers away from gross toilet humor and blow-out-all-the-stops sexuality, relying instead on an old-school comedy staple: jokes. It's a middling-paced, middle-of-the-road romp that knows it's a lightweight bag of farcical rim-shots, and knows that you know it, too. Along with that, Scarlett Johansson once again drops into the Woody Allen leading lady template with ease (she was also in Match Point)—handling the verbal basketball of a script as if she cut her acting teeth on a copy of Annie Hall.
On the other hand, occasional mystical/crystal ball-esque references and the breezy sexual attitude of the story's central character deflate the fun. And the fact that some of the humor seems to have gone a little past its expiration date will send some in search of a pillow.
Still, Woody Allen fans will probably slip into the banter and one-liners of Scoop like an old sport coat from the back of their closet. The corduroy one with patches on the elbows.
If only Sondra wasn't so quick to slip into bed(s)....