Recently, it seems as if Woody Allen is undergoing a cinematic second wind. A filmmaker who would take a noticable pause between pictures, it's only been a year since "Small Time Crooks" and it'll only be another year before the Woodman brings out yet another picture. Unfortunately, after watching "Curse of the Jade Scorpion", it appears Allen has already worn himself thin. A director who one could count on, almost like a "brand name", for intelligent, witty jokes delivered at a rapid clip, Allen's pictures now are rarely distinguishable from all of the other mild-mannered romantic comedies that come and go.
"Jade Scorpion" takes place in the 1940's at an insurance office. Allen stars as CW Briggs, one of the company's top insurance investigators. He's a ladie's man and generally has a sixth sense about his job, but he runs into opposition with Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), a fiesty blonde who would rather see Briggs out on the street for good rather than out on the street for another case. The two have much in the way of 40's-style old-school bickering, yet this is where the movie fails, which I'll discuss later.
The two are brought together on a stage by a hypnotist named "The Jade Scorpion". He fools with the two for a few moments and soon, they're confessing love for one another. What nobody knows, though, is that he's got plans to use them later. When he calls either and tells them a word, he gets one or the other to do his stealing for him, causing both (especially CW) to find themselves in trouble.
The film suffers highly from several problems. First, the witty banter between Hunt's character and Allen is not funny or even slightly entertaining. In fact, it becomes repetitive and stale as the movie progresses - the two have very little chemistry. As wonderful an actress as I believe Hunt to be, she doesn't seem entirely comfortable here and her lines seem rather forced across as a result. As for Allen's performance, I still believe his best recent performance was actually playing himself in the documentary "Wild Man Blues". But, as the angry relationship between CW and Betty Ann is the main focus of the movie, it really makes the entire picture seem to drag endlessly. Decent supporting performances are provided by Dan Ackroyd, Wallace Shawn and especially Charlize Theron. Theron is the only one here who seems to be having the least bit of fun and, as a result, her performance is easily one of the film's best - if not the best. Unfortunately, her role is also one of the smallest, but at least she makes an impact. I'd have liked to see Theron play Hunt's role.
There's very little in the way of laughs here, but at least there's a lot of atmosphere. The recreation of the 40's era is highly impressive and I'd guess that's where most of the budget went to. Famed cinematographer Zhao Fei also lends the film a gorgeously glossy look. As one might guess, director Allen also remains one of the few directors in the world to still - dissapointingly - stick to presenting his films in mono audio, which is starting to become an annoyance.
"Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is such an insubstancial little film, though, that it becomes hard to sit through. It's far less funnier than it seems to think it is and the pairing of Hunt and Allen is a suprising miss. Hopefully, Allen's next one, which isn't too far away already, will be far less ordinary than this one, which is quite a dissapointment.