No more Times Square, it’s all about Big Ben

Woody Allen returns to London with Scarlett Johansson in his latest film, “Scoop”

Matt Graham

London has been good to Woody Allen. London and Scarlett Johansson.

After last year’s solid effort “Match Point,” Johansson and Allen are back together for the screwball murder mystery “Scoop.”

Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, an ambitious young American college student and aspiring journalist visiting family friends in the ranks of London high society.

One night she attends a show by Sid Waterman (Allen) – also known as the Great Splendini – a vaudevillian magician with a series of parlor tricks almost as corny as his one-liners.

But when Waterman picks Pransky out from the crowd to step into his box on the stage and be “teleported” away, some real magic occurs. While standing sealed inside the box, the ghost of deceased journalist Joe Strombel (“Deadwood’s” Ian McShane) appears to her.

Strombel, until very recently Britain’s top investigative reporter and never one to miss a scoop, has come with a tip from beyond the grave. It seems British nobleman and aspiring politico Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) may in fact be the “Tarot Card Killer,” a serial murderer who has been terrorizing London prostitutes for several years.

Not one to turn down a story this big, Pransky attempts to get close to Lyman, making up a fake back story and toting the reluctant Waterman along as her father.

But as Pransky infiltrates Lyman’s world, she finds Lyman’s charms more and more irresistible – after all, what girl wouldn’t fall for a handsome, athletic, cultured nobleman with a future in politics? With Pransky torn between love and duty, it falls upon Waterman and Strombel to dig deeper into the truth.

As is typical of Allen’s films, “Scoop” is an odd movie that will not appeal to everyone. It’s not quite a suspenseful thriller, nor is it an all-out comedy, but it toes the line between the two with skill, thanks largely to the performances of the cast.

Allen, thankfully, has stopped writing himself in as the romantic lead. Instead, as the bumbling Waterman, he is able to apply his neurotic shtick in a more fatherly role.

And he is believable as Johansson’s father. While she displays far more confidence than Allen’s character typically does, she has his nerdish mannerisms down pat.

Jackman also does a great job as Lyman. Watching him play the suave British gentleman here, one can’t help but think that he would’ve been the best possible fit as the new James Bond.

McShane also does yeoman’s work as Strombel. The grizzled journalist shares many traits with McShane’s character on “Deadwood,” Al Swearengen – a role which he plays to perfection – and it’s a good fit for the whiskey-and-cigarettes-voiced actor.

Is “Scoop” Allen’s best work? No. His artistic prime is long behind him and it’s not fair to expect the same level of work he produced in his heyday. Still, it’s nice to see a summer comedy that doesn’t involve anybody from the “Frat Pack.”