They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I guess the same goes for Woody Allen. His newest film, The The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, is a half-hearted attempt to revive the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s. While the look and music of the movie captures the atmosphere, the lackadaisical work by Allen and his cast does not.
Allen stars as CW Briggs, the top insurance investigator in New York in 1940-or so he keeps telling the firm’s new efficiency expert, Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt). Briggs prides himself on being able to crack any insurance caper by getting into the mind of the thief, but now, thanks to the hypnotic powers of the Jade Scorpion, the mind of a thief is getting into Briggs. Thanks to a hypnotist named Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), Briggs becomes a jewel thief when he hears the word “Constantinople”. As an added bonus, he also becomes madly in love with his sworn enemy, Betty Ann. CW goes from being on the case to being on the lam, and the only person who may be able to help him is Fitzgerald.
Thanks largely in part to Santo Loquasto’s production design, Tom Warren’s art direction and Jessica Lanier’s costumes, the film has a nice atmosphere of nostalgia to it, draped in colors of a bygone era by cinematographer Zhao Fei. With a wonderful selection of jazz and big band music in the background, the film certainly looks and to an extent feels like a film from another era.
Unfortunately, the rest of Scorpion is not on the same level. The line delivery by the cast and Allen’s directing is more on par with a high school stage play than it is a Hollywood film. Granted, there are some real gems here and there and the film seems to pick up a bit of steam in the second half, but most of the material lands with a thud. The most tiresome aspect of the film though has to be that old Allen standby, the Marital Infidelity subplot. In this film, it involves Hunt’s character and the chairman of the insurance company, played by Dan Aykroyd. Woody, for the love of God, get over it. You’ve covered this damn topic for the past twenty years. Is there anything left for you to say about this? Why does it have to be in every film you make?
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is hardly the worst movie you can come across these days. It’s a lazy yet benign movie, one that might have been a bigger success if more effort had been put forward. You will laugh here and there, but it leaves you feeling disappointed, contemplating what could have been.