The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Brian Webster

Consistently funny, smart, and even sweet, Woody Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion proves that cinema’s longest-reigning King Nerd still has it. Typified by witty repartee, mainly between Allen and his female co- stars Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron, this is one of Allen’s most consistently funny films.

The story revolves around successful insurance investigator CW Briggs (Allen), whose productive career is interrupted when he’s hypnotized by a nightclub magician (David Ogden Stiers), who targets Briggs and his office nemesis Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Hunt), an efficiency expert at the insurance company who is romancing Briggs’ boss (Dan Ackroyd) and generally making Briggs’ life unpleasant. The magician has more than entertainment on his mind, as he uses his power over Briggs to force the security expert to steal jewels from him. Briggs finds himself investigating his own crimes (he has no recollection of what he does while hypnotized), with Fitzgerald on his trail, although she too is vulnerable to the magician’s spell.

The premise is silly, but its execution – set in 1940 New York City – is superb. Allen strikes just the right balance between Briggs’ confidence in his skills and his bafflement at what’s happening. His jousting with Fitzgerald , and with wealthy playgirl Laura Kensington (Theron), is tremendous fun, primarily due to Allen’s writing – sharp dialogue and just enough self-deprecation on Briggs’ part.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is smart fun for grown-ups, without a car chase, fight or flash of flash (although Theron comes close to giving us that much) to appeal to the youthful multiplex crowd. This is the sort of movie that would work as well as a stage play as it does on film. And it’s the kind of movie that – while not among the top echelon of Allen’s films – further solidifies the writer/ director/ star’s credentials as an all-time great among filmmakers.

Now that Allen can add ‘ageing’ and ‘balding’ to his list of nerd-friendly attributes, it’s all the more important for his wit to shine. Otherwise, audiences will have an awfully difficult time accepting him as a romantic lead. But he can still pull it off, and he does so with apparent ease here.

Allen is well supported by a talented cast of his usual favourites. In addition to Hunt – who is fully up to trading barbs with him – and Theron – who seems to be having lots of fun as a vampy bad girl – Wallace Shawn and John Schuck also deliver solid supporting performances. The only note of discord come from Ackroyd, whose habit of delivering lines like he’s reading them from cue-cards is painfully evident.

Will Allen still be playing loveable nerds when he’s 70? Quite possibly. And if he keeps on writing smart, funny scripts like this one, audiences are likely to keep letting him maintain the fantasy of nerdy sexiness until he keels over – as his neurotic characters have been warning is imminent, for about three decades.

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