Woody Allen is coasting. Ever since the mid 1990s, his films have seemed like easy, fun little throwaway trinkets. Then again, it’s not surprising that after thirty films in as many years his style should become facile.
PG-13 for sexual content
Curse of the Jade Scorpion, set in 1940, looks a lot like other Woody Allen movies. It stars Woody himself as a short, neurotic New Yorker (surprise surprise). This time Woody plays CW Briggs, a crackerjack insurance investigator. He’s just finished his latest case, finding a stolen Picasso. (“It was supposed to be a woman holding a guitar but all I could see were a bunch of cubes.”).
Briggs hangs out with the boys in the office and flirts with the girls. But there’s one girl he simply can’t stand, Betty Ann (Helen Hunt). Betty Ann is an efficiency expert, brought in to streamline the way investigations are handled. CW is naturally threatened by the possibility for change, particularly because Betty Ann is looking at outsourcing the investigations that CW himself ordinarily handles.
Battle of the Sexes
To celebrate a co-worker’s 50th birthday, he and his friends from the office, along with Betty Ann, go to a club for drinks. The floor show is provided by Voltan, a hypnotist who uses a jade scorpion to mesmerize his subjects. Voltan gets CW and Betty Ann on stage, and hypnotizes them into thinking they are madly in love.
The love/hate relationship between CW and Betty Ann is the major subplot of the film. The plot line itself concerns a rash of burglaries from some of the insurance company’s wealthiest and most secure clients. CW is on the case, hot on the trail of a possible inside job, maybe even perpetrated by that cold fish Betty Ann. If only he can keep from stumbling over the Coopersmiths, the private eyes Betty Ann hired to “help” CW, he can crack the case.
Like the last few Woody Allen movies, Jade Scorpion has some fast-paced witty dialogue. Woody tosses off some great one-liners all through the movie. Just trying to keep up with all the funny lines was more than I could handle. Two that I managed to jot down were something about “chili cheesecake” and “never bet on a horse with Parkinson’s.” Allen and Hunt never run out of creative ways to express their mutual hatred.
The cast is populated with well-known faces. David Ogden Stiers plays Voltan; Wallace Shawn is one of CW’s coworkers; and up-and-coming Charlize Theron plays the voluptuous bad-girl daughter of one of the victims. Of course Helen Hunt shines as the ambitious and tough Betty Ann.
The film’s score is also reminiscent of other Allen projects. Long-time collaborator Dick Hyman performs much of the films authentic-sounding period swing music (the favorite style of Woody Allen, who plays jazz clarinet professionally).
The look of the film is impeccable. Cinematographer Zhao Fei (who caught a perfect New York Sunset in Small Time Crooks) shoots Jade Scorpion in dark golden light, almost giving the film a sepia-toned sense of the past.
In short, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is everything you’d expect from Woody Allen — funny lines, stars galore, jazzy music, and gratuitously good cinematography. Hopefully that sounds like a recommendation. If not, then you need to look for another director.