The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

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Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson
Woody Allen
Helen Hunt
Dan Aykroyd
The year is 1940 and Woody Allen is a top-notch insurance investigator. His methods are very old-fashioned and apparently out of date. A new employee (Hunt) has just been hired to streamline the operations for greater efficiency. The two do not like each other. One night, they are both put under a hypnotic trance by a magician, and unbeknownst to them, placed under his control. Soon thereafter, jewels are stolen, words of love are exchanged and everyone is looking for an answer.
A wonderful recreation of the 1940s style movies, with the fast-talking witty banter between co-workers, a catchy jazz score moving things along, film noirish elements such as the Veronica Lake-type sexpot, one-liners galore and a fluffy, if inconsequential plotline. On the downside, the film actually starts off pretty slowly, with the first hour tossing only a few guffaws out there, but never really generating any kind of steady flow or energy. The sets, on the other hand, were amazing, the production design and costumes were perfect, and the casting ideal, so I kept hoping that the film would pick up and not turn into yet another mediocre outing for the man. But it wasn’t not long before I was fully engaged by the characters, entertained by the many zingers delivered back-and-forth between Allen and Hunt, and actually interested in the resolution of the flick. I also appreciated how Allen played the fine line between homage to the films of old, parody and actual reinvention (note Theron’s entire female persona that is drenched in film noir- very cool).

Of course, films like this (with little or no real tension in the plot) need solid actors to keep you interested in the quick-fire dialogue, and once again, Allen does a great job in playing his character, who for once, isn’t his typical New York Jewish neurotic cheating insecure husband dude. He actually plays a “macho” guy here and handles it pretty well, especially the scenes in which he’s hypnotized. But the bigger surprise for me in this film was Helen Hunt, an actress who I was openly “sick of seeing” in movies late last year (sorry babe, you were just in too many at the same time!). Anyway, she’s really great in this film as the headstrong woman looking to a new era of equality amongst men, and doesn’t miss a beat of Allen’s fast-paced dialogue. I didn’t care much for her running joke about him “dying” whenever he left a room, but overall she was really good and I especially liked the way that her sweaters clung to her breasts as they did…yum, yum! Harumph, but I digress. So let’s recap. A great looking picture with a nice jazzy score, some funny one-liners, especially in the second half, a decent plotline, although you shouldn’t expect a real mystery or anything, and some solid acting all around.

I can’t say that this is even remotely close to any of Allen’s best work, but I certainly believe it to be a step in the right direction, especially after the dinky decade of films that he just went through. It’s probably better geared towards Allen fans more than anyone else, but I would still recommend this film to anyone looking for a cute, “old-school” kind of vibe, with chemistry between the leads, zippy dialogue and a satisfying conclusion.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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