Though he has been creating safe and effortless motion pictures for decades, "The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion" (IMDb listing) could easily be considered the most relaxed Woody Allen picture in some time. Casual in its humor, and bathing in that unmistakable Allen style, "Jade Scorpion" is a solid picture that easily transcends its rather familiar surroundings.
C.W. Briggs (Woody Allen) is an investigator for a large insurance company. Still at the top of his game, but losing terribly in the war of the sexes, Briggs meets his match in Betty (Helen Hunt). The two associates hate each other intensely, yet both are selected at a party to be hypnotized by the Great Voltan (David Ogden Stiers). While under, the bickering duo is made to believe that they love each other upon hearing certain trigger words. Trouble arises when it turns out that the Great Voltan has actually selected these two so he can send them into a deep hypnotic spell over the phone, and then convince them to steal priceless jewels without even knowing what is going on. When the police and the insurance company suspects Briggs of the crimes, the gumshoe must set out to clear his name.
Half the fun of "Jade Scorpion" is the time period of the picture. Set in 1940, Allen has found another chance to play around in the era that he so dearly loves. The attention to period detail is accomplished, but more entertaining is Allen's glee in recreating the character archetypes from the era. As a Humphrey Bogart-type gumshoe detective, Allen is a hoot as the insurance investigator who's clumsy with the ladies, yet perceptive of crime. Walking around in a vintage raincoat and hat that swallow his tiny frame, Allen is bubbling with joy in his performance. Though he's playing a sexist pig, Allen nevertheless makes his character a pleasure to be in company with.
To support him, Allen has brought Helen Hunt along for the ride. Not being a huge fan of this elusive actress, Hunt nevertheless is quite game for the silly obstacle course that Allen sets up for her. Amazingly, considering their ages (another Allen staple) and attention to detail differences, Allen and Hunt share a sharp repartee with each other. Bouncing Allen's lines off one another with a timing only found in the most rehearsed comedy teams, I truly hope that Hunt and Allen find the time to work together again. They make an agreeable comedy couple.
"The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion" is not anywhere near the laugh-riot as Allen's last film, "Small Time Crooks." "Jade Scorpion" is often more cute than funny, and infinitely better acted than involving. The one downfall (and a big one at that) is the ending of the picture. Being so used to the minimalist style that Allen always employs, it was disconcerting to see that this new film takes forever to end. The climax of the picture arrives around the 80-minute mark, then we are forced to sit through another 20 minutes of movie. The characters are settled, and Allen indulges himself in a little romantic comedy conclusion that is precious, but I was clawing at the walls of the theater to get out.
This large amount of time to close the picture takes away from the overall effect of "Jade Scorpion," but nothing too severe that I wouldn't recommend it. As comfortable and humorous as a Woody Allen film should be, "The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion" is another step forward for the director who seems to be taking a real joy in having rediscovered his funny bone.
Filmfodder Grade: B