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Conversation as comedy in 'Scoop' and 'Clerks 2'


July 26-August 1, 2006


About 34 years ago, in an episode of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Woody Allen directed a tasteful romance between a doctor (Gene Wilder) and a seductive but unfaithful ewe. This summer, the bride-of-the-burro sequence in Clerks 2 will be breaking interspecies erotica taboos. Speaking of two-legged amours, both Allen's new film Scoop and Clerks 2 provide impressive love objects, both never more appealing than in the eyeglasses Smith and Allen have them wearing.

Displaying an actress to maximum advantage seems like an obvious choice--so why is it so few directors can do it? In this respect, Scoop and Clerks 2 are as loaded with charm as a vintage cheesecake postcard.

Pretty as she is, Scarlett Johansson is not a strong personality, but Allen shapes her appealingly for Scoop, and in this film, she's a premium blonde clown. Her Sondra Pransky is an ambitious American student, a college newspaper journalist who wants to escape the family career in dentistry. At a performance by a stage magician, Sid Waterman (Allen), she's recruited into a disappearing trick. Inside the magician's box, she encounters the ghost of a famed journalist (Ian McShane), who tips her with his last, uncompleted story. He knows the true identity of the infamous Tarot Card Murderer, who is the son of a politically ambitious son of a peer.

Due to circumstances more amusing to watch than to write about, Sondra recruits the unwilling Waterman to pose as father as she stalks the peer. Naïve as she is, she falls in love with the suspect, Hugh Jackman. Flat spots and holes litter this mystery, and sadly there isn't much heat between Jackman and Johansson; then again, Allen may have decided not to emphasize the romance in the name of comedy. And thankfully, the vibe between Johansson and Allen is lechery-free. They're a well-tempered comedy team; playing gawky foreigners in England, they can't help bonding.

As in Match Point, the change of cities and of light does Allen good. And being a Brooklyn schlub in an ever-so-slightly anti-Semitic drawing room spurs one of Allen's smoothest quips: "I used to be of the Hebrew persuasion, but I converted to narcissism."

He's using the same talented cinematographer as on Match Point, Remi Adefarasin, but where Match Point was sultry and rainy, Scoop is a summery film with the sort of light-spirited music that used to always be pulled out of libraries for early cartoons.

Some will be dismissing Scoop as too much of the same from Allen. And some will see Clerks 2 as proof Smith will never get over his puerile qualities. Yet both of these silly, sometimes slapdash comedies seem as essential to the summer's pleasures as hot sun or cold wine. What Allen and Smith really have in common is a confidence in what they're doing. Their sense that conversation is the essence of comedy is a startling contrast to the nervous, competitive anxiety of the summer blockbusters.






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