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Scoop Reviews

After scoring his first critical hit in years with the uncharacteristically straightforward thriller MATCH POINT (2005), Woody Allen took one giant step back with the kind of movie that precipitated his fall from grace: a scatterbrained mystery comedy that makes MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993) look like THE THIN MAN (1934). As friends and colleagues toast recently deceased journalist Joe Strombel's (Deadwood's Ian McShane) determination and resourcefulness, Strombel finds himself in a spot he can't bribe his way out of: crossing the river Styx with the Grim Reaper at the helm. But death can't keep Strombel from a good story. He jumps ship when a fellow passenger hands him a juicy tip — until her recent death from what she now believes was poison, Strombel's source was personal secretary to a rich and dashing lord's son, Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), and she strongly suspects her untimely passing was precipitated by a theory she developed regarding her boss: that Peter Lymon is in fact the elusive "Tarot Card Killer," who leaves fortune-telling cards alongside the bodies of his victims, who are brunette prostitutes with close-cropped hair. Strombel materializes back in London, inside the presto-chango cabinet of cheesy vaudeville magician Sid Waterman (Allen), aka the Great Splendini, just as game audience volunteer Sondra Pranksy (Scarlett Johansson) steps inside. Luckily for Strombel, Sondra is a student journalist from America who's on the prowl for a lead that will help kick-start her career. So what if the scoop comes from a ghost? She boldly worms her way into Lyman's tony world by posing as wealthy American heiress "Jade Juilliard Spence" (privileged New Yorkers will get the joke) and press-gangs the reluctant Sid into playing her father, a wealthy Palm Beach industrialist with a penchant for card tricks. Peter is smitten with the beguiling American in the granny glasses (perversely, Johansson was given a Mia Farrow-style makeover); the trouble is that Sondra/Jade, too flaky to maintain the slightest shred of professionalism, falls for her prey. Disappointment awaits anyone who thought MATCH POINT a sign that Allen, after a virtual mud slide of bad movies, had finally decided to stake out fresh territory. It's the same-old-same-old but with London locations — painfully stale despite the clever setup (that river Styx bit is both genuinely funny and a sweet reminder of better days and Allen's love for Ingmar Bergman). Saddest of all, Allen himself is the real stone around the film's neck: For the first time, his trademark shtick sounds less like the anxious kvetching of an endearingly neurotic New Yorker and more like the ramblings of a tired, elderly man fumbling for the right words.