Sunday, November 07, 2010
From the Vault: Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Once upon a time, movie lovers would start smiling as soon as the white-on-black titles heralding a new Woody Allen film appeared. Alas, that day has long since passed and Curse of the Jade Scorpion does nothing to revive that era.
Allen used to be the most dependable of filmmakers, producing an amazing run between 1969 and 1989 marred only by Stardust Memories and A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.
Following 1989's great Crimes and Misdemeanors, something happened. Most of Allen's films began to taste like leftovers, repeating ideas he'd done before and better.
Curse of the Jade Scorpion does nothing to quench the thirst of fans yearning for the good old days. It's a step up from his lowest point, 1998's Celebrity, but it's still very forgettable.
Allen stars as CW Briggs, an insurance investigator in 1940 who spars with the firm's new efficiency expert Betty Ann (Helen Hunt).
During a co-worker's birthday celebration, Briggs and Betty Ann take part in a hypnotist's stage act, where the showman (David Ogden Stiers) puts the idea in their heads that there is more love than hate in their relationship. Unfortunately, he also programs them to carry out a string of crimes.
Allen's films used to be full of surprises or, at least enough good dialogue to distract from the familiar. Curse of the Jade Scorpion offers neither. Allen, usually reliable for laughs in even his weakest works, stumbles through jokes that he delivers without any evidence of his exquisite comic timing.
Another problem, one that's harder to ignore with each passing year, is that, at age 65, Allen's age is showing, making his choices for on-screen partners seem ridiculous.
When Charlize Theron, doing her best to ape Veronica Lake, throws herself at Allen, it's hard not to realize that Theron was 2 when Annie Hall came out. Ultimately, Allen does get paired with Hunt who is slightly closer to his age: Woody was only 27 when she was born.
All of that would be irrelevant if Jade Scorpion managed to make you laugh, but it earns hardly a chuckle. It doesn't seem accidental when you realize that Allen's last two worthwhile efforts, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway, both credited co-writers. Perhaps Allen needs a new collaborator or to direct something he didn't write.
Allen always will hold a revered spot in the pantheon of America's great film artists. Let's hope he doesn't further diminish that legacy with films like Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
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