The inner workings of a narcissist's mind are exactly the right ingredients for laughter.

THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


In The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, the master shows that he can still create inspired scenes for his appreciative fans, but those scenes seem fewer, the filler material familiar, and the audience smaller. Allen's enormous ego hovers, as it always does, above every scene. As if to acknowledge that his appeal to young women may be diminishing, he covers himself here by becoming romantic only when under the spell of a magician: "Hey, he made me do it." But nothing can disguise his belief that he is a gift to womanhood. Aside from that conceit, the news is good.

The year is 1940; the atmosphere is all period detail, lovingly covered in the luminous golden light of rotogravure nostalgia. C.W. Briggs (Woody Allen) is a successful investigator for an insurance company. Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) is an efficiency expert brought in by the firm's CEO (Dan Aykroyd) to restore the firm to its former prominence. The movie rests C.W.'s and Betty Ann's mutual antagonism.

When a company party is held at the Rainbow Room, Voltan, a magician, puts the warring couple into a deep hypnotic trance, which he can reactivate ever after with one telephoned word. Under Voltan's orders, the hypnotized C.W. steals jewels from the very mansion he was hired to protect. The little investigator with the big ego and the cold-blooded efficiency expert spend the rest of the movie passing in and out of hypnotic trances, shifting from nasty attitudes to kind, from criminal behavior to honorable. The shopworn plot works surprisingly well.

How about the actors? Just try not laughing at Allen's instant trance. He becomes a limp puppet held up only by an imaginary string from the back of his neck, while his red-rimmed eyes roll into another world. Charlize Theron plays a spoiled rich girl who comes on to Allen in negligee and Veronica Lake hairdo, with a marvelous 40s swing saxophone playing in the background. She's perfect for a few moments, but then it becomes clear she just can't deliver the throaty invitation that was the trademark of Joan Blondell and Ann Sheridan in all those terrific old movies in which they played bad girls as second leads.

Helen Hunt is a contemporary comedienne of the first rank whose fine timing doesn't quite make it through the elongated sentences Allen has written for her. Still, when she softens, as she does in Voltan's trance, her natural appeal becomes a fine foil for Allen. Dan Aykroyd's CEO is given much screen space, but the actor just plays dead, adding nothing to the movie.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Dreamworks
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 1h43m


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