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Movie Review

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Romance Comedy
Length:
1 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
August 24, 2001
Relevant Issues
Woody Allen and Helen Hunt in “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”
Featuring: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Brian Markinson, Dan Aykroyd
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Letty Aronson, Helen Robin
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG

Which is more pathetic: watching Woody Allen pretend to have animal magnetism, or trying to believe that Helen Hunt (“Pay It Forward,” “What Women Want”) can fall for a portly Dan Aykroid? Helen (did I see her flinch when she first kissed Dan?) and Dan have about as much on-screen chemistry as Mr. Rogers and Rosie O'Donnell.

Woody should have cast someone else in the role of investigator C.W. Briggs. Jerry Seinfeld, perhaps? A few times Allen’s delivery was crisp, but most of the time it fell flat. Woody is known to write some funny period pieces in the past, but can he still deliver the knockout punch? “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” seems to be merely a resume builder for Elizabeth Berkley, Charlize Theron, and Helen Hunt (not that Hunt needed it). Allen is one of the famous and wealthy Hollywood power brokers, but give us a break! Yes, his on-screen kiss with Theron is somewhat inventive, but perhaps he is more of a legend in his own mind then in reality. New plots are in order, Mr. Allen… ones without you as the heartthrob cast with women half your age.

“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” is about C.W. Briggs (Woody Allen), an insurance investigator working for a company headed by Chris Magruder (Dan Aykroid). C.W. has a long and successful career at solving cases. He even finds a stolen Picasso inside a telescope (Wow! I’m impressed!). Mr. Magruder hires Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) to be the company’s new “efficiency expert”. She’s gonna clean house and modernize operations in 1940s New York City (at least the costumes and the cinematography are convincing).

A feud develops between Miss Fitzgerald and C.W. Briggs. One stands for the traditional “this is the way we have always done it” and another fights for the firm’s progress. The two enter the ring of competition and begin a long series of verbally sparring with each other (sometimes even using paragraphs). Helen (”Mad About You”) Hunt is convincing as the dame in charge of belittling skirt-chasing Briggs. But her character loses credibility as the mistress of Mr. Magruder and someone who would end up with C.W.

One night a bunch of people from the office goes to a nightclub. Fitzgerald and Briggs are both hypnotized on stage by Voltan (David Ogden Stiers). (It turns out that Voltan wants to turn these two into jewel thieves.) While attempting to solve a case under the influence of hypnotism, Briggs becomes confused. Woody reprises his act from the earlier “Sleepers” (further evidence of the complete lack of new ideas), as he walks around under the curse of the Scorpion.

Charlize Theron in “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” The banjo music heard during these zombie-like trance scenes was silly at best. His detective work quickly begins to shows that Briggs is chasing his own tail. C.W. stumbles onto Veronica Lake (Charlize Theron) while trying to get some clues. We are supposed to believe that this blonde bombshell is turned on by a 65-year-old man (you tell me who is under hypnosis). Theron is spectacular as the stereotypical seductress. The plot thickens as Briggs gets caught with the goods. He now must convince everyone that he is not the bandit. Will C.W. be able to prove his innocence? Will he be able to break Voltan’s spell? Will he be able to get the girl in the end? I think you already know where this story is going…

The 40s-era music was nice, including some great tunes from Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” and Glen Miller’s “Sunrise Serenade”. I even overheard two older movie patrons comment to each other as they left the theater, “well at least the film had nice music”, complete with wooden console radios. The characters were forever puffing on cigarettes and fixing cocktails (though for me this added nothing to the atmosphere of nostalgia).

For the demographics intended (over 50), “Curse” hit its mark. But personally the film did nothing for me. it’s tame for a PG-13 film and viewers will find its contents mildly objectionable. There is one scene where a woman presumably disrobes and tries to seduce a man to have sex. The movie is low on the profanity scale, always a refreshing change. I did smile a few times at some of the lame attempts at comedy (maybe I could be hypnotized to smile more).

This is truly a lite flick—you know, everything you ever wanted in a film and less. It it recommendable? Like rummaging through an antique shop, who knows—perhaps you’ll find a treasure. But for me the jazz was the highlight. Mr. Allen, did you do this one from rote?


Viewer Comments
This movie was totally lame just like I thought it would be. One man offers to rub a woman’s chest down and she says that any man who wants to rub down her chest better bring a ring. This leads to a discussion of how praiseworthy it is to wait for intimacy till marriage. This is one of the only redeeming things in this movie though. A man blames his womanizing on God saying He made him that way. The main problem with this movie is its loads of sexual innuendo and jokes. There are a lot of them. An older man is always oggling women and owns nudie playing cards. Couples have intimate affairs outside marriage, but the grossest thing was to see a man sleeping with girls young enough to be his granddaughters. There is mild cussing but it wasn’t too bad. There is tons of smoking and drinking also. This was a really stupid movie!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 1]
—KE, teen
Sadly this is one of Woody Allen’s weakest films probably due to a lack of romantic chemistry between Allen and Hunt and Allen’s inability to milk potential scenes for far more laughs. There are several laugh-out-loud one-liners and insults but those are the only types of comedy that work. The subplot between Aykroyd and Hunt is lame (Aykroyd’s performance is terrible). The ending is the worst I’ve seen in a Woody Allen film because it is so unbelievable and it isn’t built up at all. Its almost as if Allen figured “Oh! There is a man and a woman character so they have to fall in love; it’s the law of cinema.” The premise is so good that the film should have exploded with laughs. The 1940’s elements seem like the actors are playing dress up and going through the motions. There is some sexual content but The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is so bland I could hardly even call them offensive. Thumbs down.
My Ratings: [Average / 2½]
—Andrew, age 25
Reviewer, did we see the same movie? Perhaps you do have to be a Woody Allen fan to enjoy what he does so perhaps you were the wrong person to review this film. I personally found it to be funny and so did the people in the packed theatre in which I saw this film. It is true that I have liked other Woody Allen films better than this one but the humor is clever and the humor is clean (for the most part) and I recommend this movie if you want to sit and laugh a while. Oh, and… in 1940 smoking was very common, especially in movies, and wasn’t considered the damnable sin that many Christians consider it today…
My Ratings: [Good / 3]
—R. Hubler, age 29

Yes, this is a pleasant movie, full of period nuances. No violence or the common obscenities. You do have to like Woody Allen, however, and being over 50 helps (which I am). But I had something to do at home, so I left early. How did it actually end, and who cares?
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
Halyna Barannik, age 55

Movie Critics

…Fans of Allen’s dorkdom will dig this Curse; others will just fall into a deep, deep sleep…
—E! Online

…3 mild obscenities, 12 sexual references, 6 religious exclamations…
—Kids-in-Mind

… non-explicit sexual references, proposals/requests, and innuendo/double entendres…
—ScreenIt!