The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion

on August 24, 2001 by Michael Tunison
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   Filter the trappings of a '30s/'40s screwball mystery through Woody Allen's unmistakable sensibility and you get...well, a Woody Allen film pretty much like a couple of dozen others, except that the swinging jazz score fits in a little better than usual. Which is just fine with those of us who figure even an average-quality Allen effort like "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is worth seeing, especially considering the lack of intelligent big-screen comedy competition out there.

   Set in 1940, the 30th feature written and directed by Allen in 32 years stars the auteur as a steetwise insurance investigator whose old-fashioned way of doing things is threatened when a sharp-tongued efficiency expert (Helen Hunt) is hired to modernize operations at his New York firm. The two co-workers are at each other's throats from the word go, verbally sparring Tracy and Hepburn-style at every opportunity, so it just about drives them crazy when the seemingly innocent parlor tricks of a stage hypnotist (David Ogden Stiers) link them not only to each other, but to a series of mysterious jewel thefts in the area.

   Allen's enthusiasm for paying homage to classics in the tradition of "His Girl Friday" and "The Thin Man" series is infectious, though his own comic style is so set in its ways that, apart from the costumes, there's virtually no difference between the humor in "Jade Scorpion" and that of his contemporary-set comedies such as the similarly toned "Manhattan Murder Mystery." Happily, he has in Hunt a leading lady who can dish out anything he can and then some.

   "Jade Scorpion" is no "Annie Hall" (or even a "Bullets Over Broadway") but there's enough good fun in its zinger lines and clever plot twists to recommend it. Starring Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, David Ogden Stiers, Brian Markinson, Elizabeth Berkley and Wallace Shawn. Directed and written by Woody Allen. Produced by Letty Aronson. A DreamWorks release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 101 min

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