The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) / Comedy-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content
Running time: 103 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Berkley, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published December 24, 2001
Pretty much anyone who has followed Woody Allen's (Small Town Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown) career has come to the conclusion that his best work is behind him. The least we can do as viewers is hope for moments of the old magic and know those are going to have to be enough to sate us because it's not going to carry for the whole film. It shouldn't come as a surprise that The Curse of the Jade Scorpion won't end up ranking among Allen's finer works, but the hiccups of inspiration are still there, and they happen just often enough to make the trip worthwhile.
Set around 1940, Allen plays CW Briggs, a longtime and very successful insurance investigator for a once popular and now struggling insurance firm. The firm enlists the aid of future-minded Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Hunt, What Women Want) to revamp the company and trim the fat, and the old-timer Briggs doesn't like any of the new-fangled ideas. The two always bicker at every opportunity, which makes for a fun evening among her coworkers who bring them to a hypnotist named Voltan (Stiers, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) that puts them under a spell (using the jade scorpion of the title) and for a few minutes the two are told that they are madly in love with each other. After a bit they are snapped out of it and go back to their squabbling, but Voltan has conveniently left himself a backdoor to put Briggs under his spell with just a phone call and the word "Constantinople". Using Briggs' mind for thievery and the fact that he has installed a fool-proof system in a well-to-do family's manor, Briggs is commanded to steal the priceless jewels kept in the family safe. Remembering nothing, Briggs is also given the case to crack the robbery that he perpetrated while under a trance.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is a clever idea for a movie, with Briggs proudly proclaiming that "it takes a thief to catch a thief", and that he'd hate to be the one to try to catch himself if he were a thief. The set-up to the scheme is quite well done, and even if the characterizations and plot elements are hard to swallow, Allen successfully keeps a pleasant tone so that we are willing to overlook the flaws for a chance at some fun. For most of the way, there are pleasant moments and a few chuckles, and even if we aren't doubled over in laughter, Jade Scorpion is hard to dislike. It's breezy nature is infectious, and using nothing more than charm and a light touch, the film itself is almost hypnotic enough to cover up the fact that underneath it isn't a fully realized production.
However, soon enough, the charm just isn't enough, and when the plot begins to drive the picture, it's like the snapping of the fingers to wake us up to the fact that The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is little more than a pleasant diversion of little substance. That isn't really an altogether bad thing to be, as long as that's what you are looking for, but anyone looking for a return of Woody Allen to his former reputation will probably not find it here.
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is a very enjoyable, if slight, comedy that is recommended as a feel-good time-filler. The film can be summed up in a line Charlize Theron (Reindeer Games) delivers during the movie, when declining the wining and dining and goes right to lovemaking, accusing Allen of wanting to "skip the dinner and head straight for dessert." At least the dessert is satisfying.
©2001 Vince Leo