Woody, could he?
Apparently he could "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is a good-enough entry in Woody Allen's body of work and an enjoyable return to the stylish comedies of days gone by.
By FRANK VIGORITO
In the 160 games of the baseball season, there are a lot more fly balls than home runs, and yet no matter how many times one has seen a fly ball, at the sound of the bat, every baseball fan's inner voice says, "Home run!" only to see the ball come lazily down into the outfielders glove as Phil Rizzuto used to say "like an old can of corn." The expectation is hard to unlearn, but the payoff is that over the course of the season and 1,000 at bats later, a number of those fly balls did become home runs and we do get to jump out of our seats and scream like maniacs. "Curse of the Jade Scorpion," the latest piece of work from cinematic iron horse Woody Allen, is a dramatic, high, long fly ball that reaches the warning track of excellence, but doesn't quite get over the fence. Fans of Allen's oeuvre will think it a terrific shot; his detractors will just call it an out.
Taking an extended break from serious adult themes and returning to his "funny" movie style, "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" transports us to Manhattan in 1940, a rough-and-tumble universe where the men talk fast and the "broads" talk back faster. Woody plays C.W. Briggs, an aging, balding, veteran insurance investigator at one of the big New York City firms. His colleagues love him, his contemporaries respect him, and the secretary pool doesn't mind his advances. Life is good for Briggs, and Allen seems to relish playing a role that must take him back to the screen dialogue he grew up on as a young kid in the city's movie houses. Every line, from the cheap wisecracks to the hard-boiled neurotics, rings true off Allen's sharp tongue. Briggs' professional life takes a nosedive, however, when the boss's new pet, Miss Fitzgerald (played by Helen Hunt) an almost '90s-style executive, is brought into the firm to make it more efficient. Wherever Briggs and Fitzgerald meet, the sparks immediately fly. Sadly, Hunt's good-girl, too-sensitive-for-power demeanor makes her no match for Allen's bulldog Briggs, and even her witty retorts seem to fall haplessly to the floor when they should be stinging scene finales.
|THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION|
|Written and directed by: Woody Allen.|
Cast: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Elizabeth Berkley, Helen Hunt, Brian Markinson, John Schuck, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Charlize Theron, Greg Stebner.
Related links: Official site
The farcical plot has Briggs and Fitzgerald hypnotized by a lounge magician and a number of mysterious robberies later, they realize that they themselves have been the perpetrators under post-hypnotic suggestion. In a romantic twist on the crime caper, Briggs and Fitzgerald are also madly in love with each other, when hypnotized, but can't quite seem to be there at the same time. A highly entertaining subplot to the story involves a wealthy alcoholic bombshell played by the ubiquitous Charlize Theron, who lights up the screen with her vivacity, verbally matching Woody at every syllable, sending them both toward the heights of Bogart and Bacall. It's next to impossible not to wonder what the film might have been like with Theron as the lead, and how long it will take for Allen to cast her as such.
Woody Allen has a knack for finding the Hollywood ending in every film, no matter how highly charged or neuroticized, and "Jade Scorpion" is no exception; the burglaries are solved, the villain goes to jail, and the lovers find romance. Unfortunately, the film does not stray far from Allen's recent formula of banjo-band vamps for action followed by mellow jazz love songs, and built-in nostalgia by way of sepia-tone lighting. On the other hand, the physical comedy of Allen under hypnosis at one point carrying an important secret parcel high in the air over his head through Grand Central is a brand of comedy not seen in a while, perhaps not since the "Sleeper" robot.
"Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is entertaining, well written, well directed and impeccably executed in a way that only an expert like Allen can master. It may be another one of the master's long fly-ball outs, not as well remembered as the home runs, but every ballplayer knows you have to take swings to make hits, and Woody Allen's persistence makes him a tough filmmaker to beat.
|SEPTEMBER 7, 2001|
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