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Listless and limp: (l-r) Johansson and Jackman in Scoop.

Seeing Scarlett

By John Rodat

Scoop

Directed by Woody Allen

Prior to seeing Woody Allenís newest movie, Scoop, I thought its star, Scarlett Johansson, was among the most overhyped, least charismatic young stars I had ever seen. After seeing it, I realize that I was wrong. And Iím big enough to admit it.

Scarlett Johansson is currently the most overhyped, least charismatic young star I have ever seen. Oh. My. God. She sucks. Simply, blatantly, embarrassingly atrocious. There are so many things that can go wrong in a movie, and in Scoop sheís all of them.

OK, that last is an overstatement: There are plenty of other reasons to steer clear of Scoop: The plot is thin, predictable and emotionally empty; the humor is all boilerplate (Allenís nebbishy, stuttering shtick is so old that the only way to appreciate it is by being grateful that at least he hasnít hired Kenneth Brannagh to deliver it again); not one actorónot even Deadwoodís deliciously Machiavellian Ian McShaneóis used wisely or well. The list goes on and on.

Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, a college-aged journalist wannabe, whose qualifications appear to be a pair of gold-rimmed glasses (Hey, look, Iím acting! These arenít really my glasses!) and a willingness to fuck subjects for an interview. Allen is Sid Waterman, a low-rent stage magician. The two meet when Sid calls Sondra up onstage as a volunteer during his act. While hidden in a magic cabinet, Sondra is visited by the ghost of deceased investigative reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane). Joe has gotten an afterlife tip about the identity of a serial killer and has decided to pass it on to a fellow, and still living, journalist. Ambitious young Sondra seizes the opportunityóall the more eagerly when the suspect turns out to be a handsome, super-wealthy English nobleman (Hugh Jackman)óand pulls Sid along for the adventure.

Itís painful even to recall the inanity of this movie. If the primary relationship had been Sondra and Joe, that is the living and the dead, there might have been some fun tension and some of the college-dropout intellectualism that made Allenís early work distinct and amusing. Plus, weíd have gotten to see more of McShane than Allen or the totally limp Jackman. If the filmís visuals, the pacing or the set design had in any way been suggestive of a í40s-style madcap comedy, there might have been some nostalgic fun. Had this movie starred the young Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, say, it would have had some charm. And thereís the rub: that damned cast, that damned Johansson.

In fact, sheís so bad that Iíll go out on a limb and make a prediction: Sheís going to be huge. Look out, Julia Roberts, your vapid heir is apparent.

Learning to Serve

The Ant Bully

Directed by John A. Davis

The Ant Bully can be forgiven for displaying an occasional similarity to those other insect animated flicks, Antz and A Bugís Life. I mean, come on, how much mileage can a filmmaking crew get out of, well, bugs? Comparisons to those earlier movies are to be expected, but The Ant Bully is a surprisingly sweet, unique story that can stand on its own.

Based on the John Nickle book of the same name, The Ant Bully is the story of little Lucas Nickle, a bespectacled kid without a friend, who is victimized daily by a gang of youth headed up byóyou guessed itóa big bully. Frustrated, with nowhere to turn, Lucas turns his revenge on the ant colony in his front yard, pelting it with the water from first a squirt gun, then a hose, and even turning a magnifying glass to it in order to incinerate the little critters. Meanwhile, in said colony, the wizard ant Zoc (Nicolas Cage) concocts a magic potion that, when dropped into a sleeping Lucasís ear, renders the Ant Bully (known by the ants as Peanut the Destroyer, after hearing Lucasís mom call him Peanut) the size of his victims. Tables are turned when the ants bear tiny Lucas to their Queen (Meryl Streep), who metes out an unusual punishment: Lucas cannot return to his normal size or to his home until he has become a member of the colony.

Zocís girlfriend Hova (Julia Roberts) takes on the task of schooling a very unwilling Lucas in the ways of ants. This also includes training with lead forager Kreela (Regina King) and some humorous advice from lead scout Fugax (Bruce Campbell). Director John A. Davis and his team of animators go to town depicting Lucasí misadventures in terms of varying scope and perspective. There are two epic and exciting battles. In one, at the penultimate moment, in which a firecracker is about to burst within the colony, the perspective suddenly changes to an aerial view of Lucasís backyard, from which a piddly poof of smoke arises. Itís disarming and wonderful at the same time, far funnier than it would have been had we just seen the direct effect of the blast.

Some readers may think Iím soft on childrenís movies. Perhaps the idea that Iím keeping my own active boys quiet for the length of a movie is enough reason for me to give the big thumbs up to something. While nothing could be further from the truth, I do admit that the reaction of my 10-year-old, a real movie buff whose tastes run from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to John Ford to anything with Cary Grant, is sometimes quite telling, and with The Ant Bully, he chuckled out loud a number of times and clearly seemed to enjoy the show. The Ant Bully does not need to apologize for anything. Itís a first-rate story, filmed imaginatively with verve and humor, and as such, itís one of those rarities, a movie thatís as good as its source.

óLaura Leon


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