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'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion'

Where's the sting? 'Jade Scorpion' lacks Woody Allen's sharp wit

Friday, August 24, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The curse of being Woody Allen is the consistent boogeyman of high expectations, and the movie at hand is a good case in point. It's called "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," and were it made by anyone else, it would be judged "a fine funny film."

  Movie Review


RATING: PG-13 for sexual candor and mild profanity.

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen.

STARRING: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd.



That, in fact, is exactly what it is -- but by Woody Allen's standards it's just not quite as fine or as funny as we've come to expect.

The Woodman plays C.W. Briggs, ace investigator for a big Manhattan insurance company, who's got a reputation for cracking every case of insurance fraud or thievery he's ever been handed. Trouble is, his boss (Dan Aykroyd) has hired hard-bitten Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), the new female efficiency expert, who immediately singles out Woody and his department as the most in need of cleaning up and cleaning out.

So, it's hate at first sight between the two of them, as an ongoing exchange of snappy one-liner insults keeps reminding us throughout the film. Adding injury to those insults, Betty and the boss have a secret love affair going, which puts Aykroyd firmly on Hunt's side of the verbal sniper fire.

The film is set in 1939 New York, Allen's favorite period, with beautiful attention to sets, costumes and location details, especially concerning the insurance company digs. At an office retirement party, the big entertainment of the evening is Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), a magician-hypnotist who picks Allen and Hunt out of the audience as his subjects and puts them under the spell of The Jade Scorpion, making the two bitter enemies fall in love with each other -- and making Woody follow all of his instructions -- at the mention of the word "Constantinople."

Therein lies the comedy. It's a funny plot premise, and it produces a series of funny situations and themes: Woody is totally baffled by a series of daring inside-job jewel robberies -- committed by himself.

Hunt is a good foil for Allen, and Charlize Theron is a seductive blonde bombshell par excellence in support. Allen's direction and the proceedings overall are full of chuckles but precious few belly laughs.

The bottom line is that '30s and '40s detective films have been spoofed and parodied a few too many times, and that many of those previous were spoofier and better than this one ("Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" comes to mind).

Even so, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is good fun -- as long as you're willing to settle for amusement instead of hilarity.

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