(Don’s Woody Allen festival continues: this film review of “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 29 March 2002.)
Written & directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron and Wallace Shawn
In the history of film, Woody Allen has been one of the most noted American-Jewish directors, creating both a host of imitators as well as a Jewish male stereotype based on his bumbling, neurotic on-screen persona. He and his producers pride themselves on Allen’s completing one film each year for almost thirty years in a row.
In recent years, many loyal movie-goers have forgiven Woody Allen his very public sexual transgressions because he has made so many classic and entertaining character-driven relationship films (“Annie Hall”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”) and pushed the edge of cinematic creativity (“Zelig”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”). But as he approaches his late 60’s, is Woody Allen running out of creative puff? Although four of his films have had “Best Original Screenplay” Oscar nominations in the past 10 years (a significant achievement for anyone), Allen’s films appear to be getting smaller and smaller, returning to his now ageing themes of small-time criminals, magic and the price of fame.
Allen’s “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” is set in the 1940s and in which he also stars as C.W. Briggs, an old-time insurance investigator under pressure from new “efficiency expert” Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), who is attempting to modernise the company. Briggs is legendary for his ability to solve difficult crimes and recover the stolen insured goods. Betty brings a very modern, feminist point of view to her position. One night he and Betty join a group at a nightclub where a magician hypnotises them both. This leads into some crimes in which Briggs becomes the chief suspect, and the tension with Betty grows. The film also stars (a very bland and clunky) Dan Akroyd as Betty’s manager, with whom she is having an affair; (South African-born) Charlize Theron as an oversexed rich girl; and consistently quirky Wallace Shawn as a co-worker.
The jade scorpion of the title refers to the hypnotist’s figurine, but the curse is pretty bland – as are most things about this movie, except the settings and costumes (the film is rated “G”, pretty unusual for an adult film). The Woody Allen-Helen Hunt interplay is well-done, although at times sounds a bit like the TV series “Mad About You” (in which Hunt co-starred). The obvious models for this film were 1940s classics such as “Double Indemnity” or “His Girl Friday”, but “Jade Scorpion” does not have the biting drama of the former nor the manic comic feel of the latter.