Critics tripped over themselves in proclaiming that Woody Allen’s decision to film last year’s Match Point in London was just the creative rejuvenation the writer-director needed. Now that he’s made a second picture in Ol’ Blighty, however, you get the feeling that it was merely a change of scenery. There’s common ground between Match Point and this new comedy—the same upper-tax-bracket flats and country houses serve as backdrops, Scarlett Johansson once again acts as muse, homicides are involved in both—but if you’re looking for Scoop’s companion piece, the similarly middlebrow Manhattan Murder Mystery is a better fit. Apparently, it’ll take more than a transatlantic flight to keep Allen from indulging in borscht belt shtick and one-liners unearthed from vaudeville’s musty crypt.
There’s nothing wrong with these old tricks per se, provided that watching Allen’s Brooklyn-schnook magician bilk rich Brits is enough to sustain you. The rest of this whodunit, involving a journalism student (Johansson), a ghost (McShane) and a rich cad (Jackman), is excusable hokum, neither great nor excruciating. To his credit, the director pulls an anti-Sternberg move with his starlet, showing his admiration by playing down her physical gifts in favor of emphasizing her subtle comic chops. But guess who still keeps all the good lines for himself. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear