|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to speed by ridding it of the outdated and the outmoded.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.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 103 mins.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.