Woody Allen returns this weekend as Sidney Waterman, an aging Borscht Belt magician with a silly stage handle -- Splendini -- and props that seem more like fire hazards than things one might use to make a living. Don't wait around for the prestige in Splendini's act -- you'll be waiting a long time. There's only a bare minimum of effort as he shuffles around in comfortable old duds, converses with the audience while he's supposed to be entertaining them, uses words like 'prestidigitation' and beckons the prettiest girl in the crowd up on stage so he can leer at her while promising to "agitate her molecules." Splendini's magic show is such a narrow affair it could only be attended by a crowd that has sought it out and arrived at the theater with total precognition of what's in store for them. The same holds true for Scoop, the second entry in Woody's Late European Period.

The lovely assistant summoned to the stage is journalism student Sondra Pransky, played by sore-throat ingenue Scarlett Johansson. Sondra is pushed into Splendini's disappearance box about the same time that he's seeing another volunteer -- a pasty Brit -- off stage, telling her "thanks, you're a credit to your race." Inside the box, Sondra is only mildly shocked to discover it's the domain of a ghost, played by Deadwood star Ian McShane. The ghost was a journalist who was killed after possibly learning the identity of the elusive Tarot Card Killer. Based on that unsourceable info, Sondra sets off on a wild scoop-chase with Sidney at her side. An atom of decency -- ours, not Woody's -- demands that their relationship quickly fold into a father-daughter rhythm, with Sondra pulling doting dad-figure Sidney around town by the ear and bouncing her theories about the identity of the killer off his Hubble-thick glasses. Their frantic quest is contrasted by the fate of the poor ghost, who is adrift on a fog-swept barge to nowhere that's crewed by the actual Grim Reaper. Backed into a corner by his own acknowledgment of an afterlife, Allen comes through with one that's as pointless as possible.