Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, David Ogden Stiers, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron
There was a time when Woody Allen was capable of writing very funny screwball comedies that placed his neurotic alter ego in strange situations. But over the past decade his films have become more introspective and analytical of his own troubled personal life, and, consequently, nowhere near as funny or as enjoyable. His previous film Small Time Crooks heralded a welcome return to the more lightweight Woody of old, although it seemed to run out of puff about midway. His latest film also continues this direction, although it is even less successful in maintaining its energy for the duration.
Set in 1940, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is Allen’s attempt to recapture and send up the flavour of the hard-boiled style of the 40’s film noir. Steve Martin did the same thing in the superior Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a wonderfully funny homage which took the conventions of the genre and twisted them into a deliciously inventive and original comedy. Allen essentially gets the cliches and the style right, although the romantic comedy elements of the plot itself become laboured.
Allen plays C W Briggs, a successful investigator for one of Manhattan’s largest insurance companies, who, despite his innocuous looks, is able to outwit criminal masterminds. He is constantly at loggerheads with Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), the efficiency expert hired to streamline some of the firm’s wasteful practices. At an office party though the feuding pair are hypnotised by magician Voltan (David Ogden Stiers) and tricked into declaring their deep love for each other. But Voltan also uses the pair to commit robberies at the homes of the firm’s wealthy clients. Soon Briggs is arrested for the crimes and struggles to prove his innocence.
The premise behind The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is an intriguing one, rich in comic potential, and the film certainly begins promisingly enough. There are also a number of clever and self-effacing one-liners, delivered at a zippy pace by a seemingly more relaxed Allen. However, there are also a number of ideas that misfire, and the pace is not chaotic or frantic enough to carry the film over its duller moments. The film captures the feel of the era, through Zhao Fei’s warm cinematography and the jazz soundtrack that accompanies the action.
As usual Allen has attracted a fine ensemble cast, although few of them leave much of an impression on the material. Hunt is superb as Briggs’ nemesis, and the pithy putdowns between her and Allen provide much of the film’s comic spark. Dan Aykroyd is fine as the sleazy office manager who is also carrying on an affair with Fitzgerald, and Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the nymphomaniac Laura Kensington.