The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
Laura: I usually prefer more attractive, athletic, muscular men.
C.W.: Maybe I could get in a few pushups before you come over.- Charlize Theron, Woody Allen
Stars: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt
Other Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Brian Markinson, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Berkley
Director: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content
Run Time: 01h:41m:32s
Release Date: 2002-01-29
DVD ReviewIn the same way that Radio Days was Woody Allen's love letter to radio of the 1940s, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is his tribute to classic films of that era. The labyrinthine plot recalls the best of film noir, while the rapid fire dialogue brings to mind Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. It's an unusually lightweight offering from the director, but that doesn't make it any less of a pleasure to watch.
Woody plays C.W. Briggs, a typically nervous, nebbishe, nerdish cinematic representation of the actor. He's a successful insurance investigator for Mr. Magruder's (Dan Aykroyd) firm, though whether he catches the crooks through ability or dumb luck is anyone's guess. He's got a good life, living the bachelor's dream, flirting with cute, bubble-headed secretary Jill (Elizabeth Berkley), and commanding respect from his colleagues (Wallace Shawn and Brian Markinson). But then Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), an uptight efficiency expert, moves in on his territory and threatens his old-fashioned ways.
For C.W. and "Fitz," it's loathe at first sight. He gets under her skin by writing her off as "just a woman," and she delights in blasting him with any number of blistering insults ("wormy little ferret" and "scummy vermin" being two prime examples). Allen and Hunt make good comic foils, their lightning quick banter easily reminiscent of the comedy teams of old, and in Fitzgerald, it appears that C.W. has met his verbal match.
The banter then takes a backseat to an elaborate heist when Fitzgerald and C.W., out drinking with their co-workers, are hypnotized by the magician Zoltan to believe they are in love with each other (each has a separate code word—for her, it's Madagascar, for him, Constantinople). Of course, they also give Zoltan the power to control their minds with a single utterance, and soon he has the investigator breaking into houses he himself burglar-proofed, and C.W.'s quickly the chief suspect in his own investigation.
Allen's recreation of films of the '40s goes beyond the dialogue and characterizations. His insurance office feels bustling, busy, and real, and his noir New York feels wholly genuine, right down to the oppressive haze of cigarette smoke floating in the bars and offices. And if the first few minutes of the film don't quite gel, he certainly makes up for it later, as the pace quickens and the jokes fly fast and furious towards a delightfully conceived conclusion.
Woody has fun with the role as well, and relaxes much more into the comedy than he did in 2000's Small Time Crooks. Helen Hunt is funnier than she's been in years as his romantic foil, spewing out insults with impeccable timing ("Don't choke on your breakfast and die of asphyxiation. You'll wind up unable to dislodge a large piece of toast, no matter how hard you cough," she spits). Charlize Theron channels Veronica Lake in a small, smoldering role as the sexy daughter of one of the robbed families, and even Showgirls' Elizabeth Berkley is good as C.W.'s trusting secretary.
It's been a while since Allen tangled with any serious issues in his films (at least since 1997's Deconstructing Harry), but it has also been a while since he produced a lightweight comedy as successful as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (look to Manhattan Murder Mystery for that). He's still funny... very funny... and this one placed me under its spell.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: This transfer seems a very nice representation of Allen's intended look for the film: a visual homage to film noir, but one shot in color. Color balance is excellent, with an emphasis on rich, warm tones, with little evidence of blooming or bleeding. Black level is very good, and darker scenes show a good amount of detail. The source materials show little in the way of damage or film grain. The image appears a tad on the soft side, but that seems intentional.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
|Mono||English, French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: All of Allen's films are presented in mono, and this one sounds great, with a crystal clear, well-balanced mix. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear, and the score is supported by a decent amount of low end, for a very warm sound that suits the film quite well. The different elements never have to fight for dominance.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Extras Review: Curse of the Jade Scorpion has about what you'd expect from an Allen film in terms of extras. There's the trailer, 13 screens of production notes, extensive cast bios and filmographies, and English subtitles. Sadly, the price ($32.99) is far steeper than similarly equipped discs in MGM's Allen library ($19.99).
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsWoody Allen's latest is a hilarious homage to film noir and dialogue comedies of the 1940s. It's Allen at his goofiest, and that's nothing to complain about. Fall under its spell with this nice DVD presentation from DreamWorks.
Joel Cunningham 2002-04-04