September 23, 2001 -- Woody Allen's latest film, "Curse of the Jade Scorpion," is a throwback to 1940's style screwball comedies, richly textured with music and clothing of the era, and bathed in golden light.
The problem with the film is that it is as slight as a marshmallow. It is so insubstantial and comically weak that it barely tickles the laugh meter. It does provide a number of smiles, however. The screenplay, by Allen ("Bullets Over Broadway," "Mighty Aphrodite") isn't compelling, but there are some sharply barbed one-liners here and there between Allen, who plays insurance detective C.W. Briggs, and insurance efficiency expert Betty Ann Fitzgerald (played by Helen Hunt of "Pay it Forward." The love-hate relationship between Betty and C.W. never really heats up, but some of their dialogue is witty.
The plot has Betty and C.W. being put under the hypnotic spell of Voltan the magician (David Ogden Stiers of "Everyone Says I Love You"). Soon, inexplicable robberies begin taking place, and evidence points to C.W. His buddies, George Bond (Wallace Shawn of "Clueless") and Al (Brian Markinson of "Small Time Crooks") don't think C.W. could be a thief, but the evidence is starting to look overwhelming.
Betty is a strong character in the film, as a sort of 1940's style feminist, but we soon learn she has a weakness for two-timing men. C.W. begins to feel sorry for her and she begins to feel sorry for the grim predicament C.W. is in. Woody (who also directs the film) plays his usual neurotic, nervous character, but he has a spine of defiance, which shows up in those defensive, biting one-liners. He also has a lot of self-confidence in his ability as an investigator. He's no pushover. Hunt is at once self-confident and vulnerable. Veteran character actor Wallace Shawn gives a good supporting performance as does Dan Aykroyd ("Evolution"), who plays Chris Magruder, C.W. and Betty's boss.
The period music, mostly jazz (Allen is a skilled Jazz musician and has a vast knowledge of the music of that period) and the golden-hued photography by Zhao Fei, the production design by Santo Loquasto, the art direction by Tom Warren and the set decoration by Jessica Lanier all combine to provide a certain working class post-war grittiness. The costume design by Suzanne McCabe is truly striking, especially the sumptuous garments worn by femme fatale Laura Kensington (played by Charlize Theron of "The Legend of Bagger Vance"). This film rates a C+.
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