Picks and Pans Review: Scoop

updated 08/07/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/2006 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Woody Allen, Ian McShane

The change of scenery that so reinvigorated Woody Allen—switching to London from New York City—in Match Point, last winter's deft tale of social climbing and murder, fails to provide the same lift a second time. Scoop starts off with frothy flair but, even at a scant 96 minutes, sputters across the finish line.

Like Allen's last movie, Scoop concerns itself with social climbing and murder in London, but for comedic effect. When a recently deceased veteran newspaperman (Deadwood's McShane) gets a tip in the Great Beyond that a titled Englishman (Jackman) may be a notorious serial killer, his ghost manages to pass the information along to an American college-age journalism student (Johansson) visiting London. A magician (Allen) helps her investigate, all the while warning her against falling for the dashing aristocrat.

Writer-director Allen tosses in allusions to Alfred Hitchcock films (specifically Suspicion and Notorious), but much of Scoop is devoted to recycled Yanks vs. Limeys jokes. Johansson looks lustrous and is often amusing, but she can't carry this piffle on her own. Allen dithers, and Jackman is given little to do but be debonair and, possibly, evil. (PG-13)

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