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Johansson Woody's new favourite

New York (Reuters): There's an undercurrent of deja vu coursing through Woody Allen's new comedy Scoop, starting with its London setting. But perhaps most significantly, Scarlett Johansson, the leading lady of Allen's last film, Match Point, once again plays a displaced American woman though in Scoop she's more damsel in distress than femme fatale. So is Johansson, 21, poised to become the director's next muse, succeeding Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow?

Allen enthused in a production notes interview that: ''She's a total joy. It's like I hit the lottery or something.'' He compared her to Keaton, who starred in Allen classics such as Annie Hall and Sleeper. ''There are certain people I've worked with over the years -- Diane Keaton was one -- who were just hit with the talent stick and had it all. And Scarlett has got it all,'' Allen said. ''It's a treat to work with her.'' After years of filming nearly all of his pictures in New York City, Allen returned to the British capital, where he shot last year's dark drama ''Match Point.'' He also revisited the caper territory of ''Manhattan Murder Mystery,'' which the director said was a favorite of his films.

In Scoop Johansson plays a student reporter named Sondra Pransky who gets a tip from a dead journalist (''Deadwood's'' Ian McShane) who returns from the afterlife to ensure that his big scoop makes it into print. The scoop is that an English lord's dashing son, played by Hugh Jackman, might be behind the Tarot Card serial killings terrorizing London. Allen intended Scoop as a sort of tribute to The Thin Man and Bob Hope murder mysteries, then tweaked the genre by adding mystical elements that marked The Purple Rose of Cairo, Alice and his segment of New York Stories. Early reviews have been mixed, with some grumbling about revisiting old ground, but Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter described the film as an ''amusing if minor work that delivers many of the hallmark Woody Allen pleasures.'' Allen, who used to cast himself as the romantic lead to far younger actresses, relegates himself to a comic role as a cut-rate magician Splendini (real name Sid Waterman), who ends up posing as Johansson's father to help find the killer.

The rising actress, known for quirkily diverse projects such as Lost in Translation, Girl with the Pearl Earring and Ghost World, and the veteran director said they had so much fun on the set of Match Point that Allen set about writing another project in which they could co-star. She leaves me for dead, Allen said. Johansson said making Scoop was a joy: ''It is definitely reflective of the sort of banter that Woody and I have,'' she told reporters in New York promoting her second Allen film, which opens on July 28. ''It was like going back to summer camp,'' she said. Promoting the film, however, was more of a trial.

Her famous whiskey voice went flat when the subject turned to her boyfriend, actor Josh Harnett, her co-star in the upcoming Brian De Palma thriller The Black Dahlia. ''I just don't talk about any part of my private life,'' she said, adding that there were more important topics, such as Iraq, for people to focus on. ''It's nice to have everybody not know your business.''

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