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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.33%
Worth A Look36%
Average: 28%
Pretty Bad: 12%
Total Crap: 18.67%

9 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The
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by Erik Childress

"The WORST Woody Allen Film EVER!!! And I'm a Fan!"
1 stars

Woody Allen’s films bring out the most fervent divide of love and hate amongst moviegoers. The love usually comes from the critics while the hate comes from those who find the Woodster so irritating (either for his personality or private life) that there was never any love to begin with. These Wood detractors seem to see his movies on a different plain than his fans, unable to appreciate the witty one-liners or clever observations about relationships and society, because they can’t see past the myopic persona. Throughout the years I have remained in the former category of appreciation for Mr. Allen, but after seeing his latest effort, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, I believe I have finally seen one of his films through the eyes of the haters.

Allen’s films fall neatly into two genres: Comedy and Drama. His early work strictly concentrated on the laugh quotient and many of them continue to rank as some of the finest comedies ever made. Later forays into drama didn’t fare quite as well, while a few exceptions (Crimes & Misdemeanors, Husbands & Wives) are highly regarded. Bad drama is certainly a painful experience but a bad comedy is like pulling teeth with an acid anesthetic. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion represents itself as a throwback to the screwball comedies. The setting is right. The situation is ripe. But not only did Allen forget to bring the screws and the balls, he left the comedy somewhere too, because it’s certainly not on the screen.

The year is 1940. Woody plays insurance investigator CW Briggs. He’s a bit of a dinosaur at the firm, albeit a respected one, yet is able to turn the charms of young secretaries like Jill (the always miscast Elizabeth Berkeley). One woman who is smart enough (or just sane) to see through Briggs is Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), an efficiency expert brought in to, apparently, move the files to another floor. Like all romantic foils of the screwball era, these two hate, (strike that), loathe each other.

When a birthday celebration for a colleague takes Briggs, Betty Ann and her boss/lover Chris Magruder (Dan Aykroyd) to a nightclub, the two repudiators are chosen to participate in a magician’s hypnotism number. Voltan (David Ogden Stiers) explains the story of his talisman, known as the “Jade Scorpion” and with the magic words of "Constantinople" and "Madagascar", promptly puts them under the trance of being newlyweds madly in love with each other. Of course, with the appearance of love, also comes a curse.

Voltan is then able to use his powers to turn Briggs into a master thief, robbing the jewels of wealthy clients whom he’s helped set up the security for. (How Voltan is aware of this last convenience may just be a happy coincidence.) Briggs slowly finds himself becoming the key suspect in the string of robberies, naturally unaware that he’s even done anything wrong. What plays out from here is the cinematic equivalent of TV’s “Seinfeld”. Not because its ingeniously plotted or brilliantly hilarious, but because “nothing happens.”

Nothing. Nada. Zero. Robbery after robbery occurs and bicker after countless bicker goes on between Allen and Hunt. But none of the dialogue can register as witty or snappy and none of the situations stretch themselves into any manic comic possibilities. Why not let Briggs come to the realization that he is the burglar and watch him frantically try to cover his tracks? And if you can find chemistry between Woody and any of his half-aged female co-stars, then there’s a Nobel Prize with a gravespinning Marie Curie on top waiting for you. Charlize Theron (in her Veronica Lake splendor) is the only one that provides any spark whatsoever since she’s the only one who knows what to do with the material.

Working with a smaller mainline cast than usual, Allen has cheated himself out of the meatier, supporting characters that usually end up winning Oscars. Last year’s Small Time Crooks got memorable moments out of minor roles played by Jon Lovitz and Michael Rapaport, not to mention how priceless Elaine May was. Jade Scorpion manages to neglect giving a single funny line to Aykroyd and Wallace Shawn, both irreplaceable staples of timing and improvisation in the world of comedy. Helen Hunt may as well have been playing her “new tough gal in the office” role from last year’s What Women Want. (Maybe if she reenacted her raccoon-eyed drunk from Pay It Forward, it would have been funnier.) Even Allen himself drifts from the one-liner gumshoe to a neurotic Alzheimer patient who has trouble delivering a punchline with a minor in stuttering.

So many jokes fall flat that it leaves you wondering if they were supposed to be jokes at all. Allen and Hunt may quarrel and trade barbs back and forth like Tracy & Hepburn or Gable & Colbert, but all they get right is the actual quarreling. It sure looks like they’re fighting, but nothing they say is particularly funny (Hunt keeps finishing with more long-winded ways for Allen to accidentally kill himself) and nothing would lead you to believe that there’s an underlying sexual tension just waiting to spring forth like a Phoenix from a volcano.

Allen obviously has an affection for the time period. Enough to put forth the effort in the art direction and the costumes, but all of that is just window dressing a lifeless mannequin. It may look nice, but who wants to just stare at it for 100 minutes? We know Allen can be funny, even wacky funny, but that was years ago. Not to say that elements of that wackiness can’t still exist in his films, but they take place in stories nowadays with a dab of social commentary thus diluting whatever Looney Tune screwball pleasure we experience in spurts.

Since Scorpion barely qualifies as a comedy, we can only look at its miniscule directive of people masking their true feelings under a façade of work and ego. (What does it then say about a character who’s convinced he’s knowingly tricked a woman into believing that she’s in love with him?) There’s no façade when it comes to Woody’s love/hate camps, however. Maybe one of them has just been under the curse of the jade scorpion all these years. I doubt it, because the real curse may actually be sitting through this movie and I now feel your pain.

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originally posted: 08/24/01 09:31:44
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User Comments

4/26/05 Indrid Cold Featherweight, marginally funny drama. Doesn't really do anything particularly bad or good 3 stars
4/07/04 john one of Allens less sucessful recent ventures - not that funny 2 stars
6/18/03 Andrew Callaway Dispite what some people might tell you... it's actually pretty good. 4 stars
5/19/03 George Jung One of the best movies of 2001. 5 stars
5/12/03 Jack Bourbon Well, I thought it was funny. 4 stars
4/19/03 Ubu the Ripper Not one of Woody's best, but not bad. 4 stars
1/13/03 Jack Sommersby Tired and unremarkable. Woody needs some fresh ideas, people. 2 stars
6/02/02 Chris The bouncing score keeps the film fun, fresh, and funny. 4 stars
3/28/02 HHfan Helen Hunt is THE BEST ACTRESS ever!!! 5 stars
2/20/02 Xaver I thought it was quite fun. Have some popcorn. Laugh. 4 stars
2/08/02 Regurja Tate Want good anachronistic acting? Go to Helen Hunt for it! 3 stars
9/18/01 Bud A no brainer campy mystery, fun cast, great period decor, Woody is Woody. 3 stars
9/17/01 Bri good film for what it was. Bang the girl next time thou! 4 stars
9/14/01 Albie Great Allen dialoge, Good banter and great one-liners. Enjoyed 4 stars
9/10/01 Nessus Some good barbs. Fun to watch, Dan Aykroyd felt weird though. 4 stars
9/09/01 Heather Essential for Woody fans, full of sharp insults and funny wisecracks 5 stars
8/27/01 spaceworm "Jaded" would be more like it. 2 stars
8/24/01 steve aubin when i watch this movie, i urinate like a hippo 5 stars
8/22/01 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Great Goddess, when did Woody Allen die? Why hasn't anyone told him he's a living corpse? 1 stars
8/20/01 nat good movie e.berkley good casting did agreat job 4 stars
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  24-Aug-2001 (PG-13)


  28-Mar-2002 (M)

Directed by
  Woody Allen

Written by
  Woody Allen

  Woody Allen
  Dan Aykroyd
  Elizabeth Berkley
  Helen Hunt
  Charlize Theron
  Wallace Shawn

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