The Curse of the Jade Scorpion Movie Review

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The Curse of the Jade Scorpion takes Woody Allen to some truly unfamiliar territory: Manhattan! I mean, can you believe it? Woody Allen in New York? But seriously: At least this time out we're in 1940 NYC, his first real old-timey flick since 1994's Bullets Over Broadway.

It's also (thankfully) another entry in the Slapstick Woody genre (a la Small Time Crooks), who seems to be doing a good job at keeping Serious Woody out of the picture since the late 1980s. Whew!

So how slapsticky are we talking? Scorpion is the story of C.W. Briggs (Allen), a top insurance investigator who spars with the "efficiency expert," Betty Ann (Helen Hunt) brought in to clean up the company. They immediately hate one another, but it takes only a dinner theater gag, courtesy of the great Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), to make hypnosis subjects of them both and turn them into momentary lovebirds.

It's all in good fun, but late that night, Voltan gives C.W. a call, re-hypnotizing him and sending him out to do his criminal bidding -- in this case, stealing precious jewels from C.W.'s own insurance clients, including a nutty heiress (Charlize Theron). As the film progresses, C.W. finds himself the understandable prime suspect in the case, with no memory of his hypnotism and his crimes.

Of course, as with many of the Woodman's films, the movie is not much about any of this and you aren't expected to sweat the details. Instead, you are invited to sit back as Woody pumps out punch line after punch line. Thank God, many of these lines are quite witty and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. If I was brighter, I'd have written them down so I could use some of the zingers against my more obnoxious friends and co-workers. Not all the lines are great, and often there's a long gap between the juicy moments -- when C.W. and Betty Ann go at it (verbally) -- recalling the classic Hepburn/Tracy or Hepburn/Grant or, come to think of it, Hepburn/anyone comedies. It's an oddity, for sure -- stilted, but occasionally brilliant as only Allen could spin the archetypal, mismatched, sparring couple movie.

While Scorpion is pleasant enough, it does get truly tiresome in its third act, when the film takes up the whole ridiculous hypnotism/robbery plot in earnest. The Voltan thing is initially funny, but by the end it's so distracting there's just no time for to fit in any comedy, which is obviously the only reason Woody Allen makes any film at all.

Of course, I suspect the real reason Allen made this film is so he could kiss Charlize Theron, a mere 40 years his younger.

Not that I blame him.

Asleep at the wheel.

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The Curse of the Jade Scorpion Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2001

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