The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion

The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The phoenix rises. Woody Allen has a talent for resurrection. Just when you thought he was too wrinkly to play romantic lead roles, he does it again, only better.

His latest - it's always a joy anticipating The Woodman's next move - brings him back to the territory of Manhattan Murder Mystery and Broadway Danny Rose. It's funny, it's stylish, it's a crime thriller. Oh, and it has Charlize Theron playing a dame Humphrey Bogart would have put Lauren Bacall on hold for.

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The period - early Forties. The place - where else? The wisecracks - easy. C W Briggs (Allen) is an insurance investigator who prides himself on being able to think like a criminal.

His boss (Dan Aykroyd), is two-timing with Betty Anne Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), the new efficiency tsarina, who makes Briggs's life a misery by reorganising his filing system. During an office birthday bash at a night-spot in town, Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), the resident magician, hypnotises Briggs and Fitzgerald and makes them behave like young lovers. Later, on the telephone, Voltan reconnects with Briggs and puts him in a trance and tells him to steal jewels from the mansion of a rich socialite.

The plot is borrowed from a Sexton Blake penny dreadful, with fresh gags and terrific performances. The look of the film is especially fine, reconstructing the cozy affability of pre-war New York.

Briggs is a fast talker and a failed lover. His dislike of Fitzgerald ("Germs can't live in your bloodstream, it's too cold") is matched by her loathing of him ("You couldn't find your nose if I turned the lights out"). And yet beneath the guerrilla rage lies a germ of respect.

For some reason, this absurd story works. It is to Allen's credit that he maintains an instinctive touch on the pulse of humour. He is still the insecure dweeb, with a big lip and low self esteem, but he's older now and his character has matured. "You're good at weasly type things," Fitzgerald tells Briggs, which, in the context of The Jade Scorpion, may be true.

What of Charlize? She's the playgirl daughter of the first victim of Briggs's hypnotic raids, who behaves like a Raymond Chandler heiress, badly. If it wasn't sexist, or lustful, or indecently forward to make such a suggestion, you might be persuaded to see the film just for her.

Even better, see it for itself. You won't be disappointed.

Reviewed on: 05 Dec 2002
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The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion packshot
An insurance investigator and efficiency tsarina are hypnotised into a heist.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, David Ogden Stiers, Wallace Shawn, Elizabeth Berkley, John Tormey, Kaili Vernoff

Year: 2001

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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