The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
     
             Let's forget the tabloid stories and separate the career from the
     private life (and I know there are those that would argue this isn't
     completely possible), but Woody Allen has to be ranked as one of
     America's most ingenious and gifted filmmakers. Prolific to a fault,
     he consistently turns out motion pictures on his own terms that in most
     instances prove to be enjoyable and engaging. He still remains one
     of the few filmmakers with whom most actors want to work. After
     hitting peaks in the late 1970s with
ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN
      
and again in the 80s with HANNAH AND HER SISTERS  and the 90s
     with
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, he started the new millennium
     with a mixed bag.
SMALL TIME CROOKS had some terrific moments
     (thanks primarily to actresses Tracey Ullman and Elaine May). Now
     on the heels of that comedy about lawbreakers comes the period
     caper flick
THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION. While it is hardly
     on par with his best work, it doesn't hit the lows of a
SEPTEMBER or
     a
SHADOWS AND FOG.

             Inspired equally by screwball comedies and films noir, the
     1940s-set
THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION centers on
     CW Briggs (Allen), a crackerjack insurance investigator who relies
     on tips and intuition to solve cases. Opposing his old-fashioned
     views is efficiency expert Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt).
     Betty Ann, a modern woman, is out to bring the company up
     to speed by ridding it of the outdated and the outmoded. There's just
     one problem; she owes her job to the fact she's having a secret affair
     with the married owner of the firm (Dan Aykroyd). During an evening
     out, Briggs and Fitzgerald are hypnotized with the titular Jade Scorpion
     by Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), who plants the suggestion that
     these two are madly in love when a trigger word is employed. (For him
     it's "Constantinople," for her, "Madagascar".) When a series of jewel
     thefts occur at the homes of clients of the insurance company, Briggs
     becomes stymied in his investigation. He's sure it's an inside job and
     he has his suspicions, but ... well you'll just have to see the film, for
     to say more would ruin whatever fun there may be to had.

             Allen has crafted some witty repartee which he and Hunt
     deliver perfectly. Indeed, this is the best Hunt has been in ages.
     After her brittle turns in several films in 2000, I began to have my
     doubts about her as a big screen lead. Here, she rises to the challenge
     and makes Betty Ann Fitzgerald a fully-rounded, interesting screen
     personality. Some will complain that Allen is getting a bit too old
     to star in these films, but he still proves to be a fine comic actor.
     In fact, Briggs seems less neurotic than the signature parts Allen
     has portrayed in his films. Much of the supporting cast is on target,
     with Charlize Theron as a good-time heiress making an indelible
     impression. With her Veronica Lake hairstyle and decked out in
     terrific period clothes (designed by Suzanne McCabe), Theron steals
     every scene she's in. Brian Markinson, Wallace Shawn and Elizabeth
     Berkley as fellow co-workers of Allen's Briggs all add nice
     characterizations. Only Dan Aykroyd seems miscast as the
     philandering executive; his lackluster line readings makes one
     want to take him at his word that he's gearing up for retirement.

             As with any Allen film, the production design by Santo Loquasto
     and the cinematography - here by Zhao Fei (who also shot
     
SWEET AND LOWDOWN and SMALL TOWN CROOKS) - adds
     tremendously to the audience's enjoyment.
THE CURSE OF THE
       JADE SCORPION
is an engaging throwback to the kind of films that
     no one - except Woody Allen - makes any more.

                     
                                     Rating:            C+
                                     MPAA Rating:    PG-13
                                     Running time:   103 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.