The Curse of the Jade Scorpion Review
Over the last twenty years, Woody Allen has been putting out a film a year with a metronomic regularity. Over that period he's put out some absolute classics (Hannah and her sisters and Radio days), some quality films (Everyone says I love you, Deconstructing Harry and most of the rest) and a few flops (did anyone really enjoy Interiors?) but given his quasi-frantic production rate one can always seek solace in the fact that we're probably only 12 short months away from a return to form.
Small Time Crooks was his first venture with Dreamworks and, despite not breaking even, managed to get much more exposure than his previous output had got in the UK (although in France, each of his releases is given a widespread distribution – the man is indeed "Big in France" and would be a national institution were he not American – and no, Jerry Lewis is not; that's an urban myth!). His new film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, features once again Woody Allen in the lead alongside Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd and Charlize Theron…
CW Briggs (Allen) is an investigator for an insurance company in the 1940s helping them recover stolen goods before they have to shell out… However, his ego is getting trampled upon by a new manager, Ms. Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) who's bringing a modern style of management to their office which clashes radically with CW's old-school mentality. CW's irritation is met with equal contempt from Fitzgerald who has little time for remonstrations from what she sees as a patriarchal whiner. In order to try and broker some truce, the headman, Mr. Magruder (Dan Aykroyd), decides to invite the staff out for the evening. Performing that evening at the cabaret is a hypnotist (David Ogden Stiers) who hypnotises both Fitzgerald and CW to hilarious effect… However, he "omits" to deprogram them leaving them at his mercy whenever he pronounces a certain keyword…
This film is just fantastic entertainment if nothing else – very much similar in style to many of Allen's period films. Allen sticks to the 40s epoch right down to the film's construction and plotting – much like the Coen's The Man who Wasn't There - although in this case it definitely isn't a "film noir" but rather a madcap Hollywood comedy from the same period. The look and feel of the film is wonderful too with warm tones and a very good use of lighting making it highly aesthetic. Being a Woody Allen film though, you will usually be expecting a fair share of hilarious one-liners and Woody is bang on the money here without letting it ruin the film's rhythm (look at his earlier effort Love and Death to see how a great string of jokes does not make a great comedy film).
Bearing in mind the homage nature of this film, it would be ridiculous to slate the actors for slightly wooden performances as that's pretty much what I suspect Woody wanted… The casting is pretty much perfect too: Charlize Theron plays a young rich socialite who chooses to hit on CW because he's so different from all her previous conquests (and we don't doubt that for a minute!), whilst Wallace Shawn - a regular cameo in Allen's films - and Elizabeth Berkley (from Saved by the Bell) play perfect supporting roles. Although I've never been a Dan Aykroyd fan, I thought he was excellent in his supporting role - playing it similarly to his role as Gus Trenor in Terence Davies' House of Mirth. Of course, the eternal question over whether Woody Allen is a good actor or just playing out his usual screen persona will remain. He does, yet again, play a slightly neurotic New Yorker but, as Antz proved to us, whatever the context, he can pull off a convincing performance!
I can only thoroughly recommend this to those out there who are unsure where to start with Woody Allen – this is probably as accessible as he gets and will give you an hour and a half of unadulterated Allen humour… What more can one ask for?