The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
For those who have a hard time swallowing that aging, whiny, neurotic Woody Allen is the kind of irresistible chick magnet he often positions himself as in his films, there's some good news about his new flick, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. The writer/director has managed to build a gimmick into the plot to make his mystifying allure for more youthful members of the opposite sex somewhat more plausible. (In a word: hypnosis!) And those lovelies who don't fall so quickly for the Woodman's creaky charms fall eventually, mainly because they're portrayed as perverse, slutty hedonists. Which explains everything, I guess.
In Jade Scorpion, set in 1940, Allen plays street-savvy, chauvinistic insurance investigator C.W. Briggs, who clashes catastrophically with his firm's newly hired efficiency expert (was there even such a thing back in those days?), Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt, basically rehashing the ball-busting power bitch she played in the Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want). As they're prone to loudly hurling lame insults at one another in the workplace, C.W. and Betty Ann are obviously destined for coupledom. Still, it's unlikely they would have an opportunity to pair off, save for the intervention of turban-sporting mentalist Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), who performs at a nightclub where they're attending a co-worker's birthday party. As a prank, Voltan hypnotizes them to fall for each other, to the amusement of the audience. They snap out of it immediately (or so we're led to believe). Meanwhile, Voltan capitalizes on C.W.'s vulnerability to the power of suggestion: The sinister swami hypnotizes him and has him rob the insurance agency's clients by breaching their otherwise impenetrable home-security systems, which C.W. himself set up. As the insurance outfit investigates the rash of burglaries, all signs point to the oblivious C.W. as the culprit.
Jade Scorpion has a fun premise but is hobbled by stilted dialogue and next to no laughs. It's a testament to the quality of the performances that Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkeley, briefly seen as a dishy, ditsy girl Friday, gives the film's most credible female performance. Hunt's acid-tongued proto-feminist (hardly as sassy as the smart-alecky female foils in screwball comedies of the era, the movies that Allen's film is meant to recall) seems like entirely too modern a character for a film set in the 1940s. It's a caricature that's like Jade Scorpion's position in the Woody Allen oeuvre: remarkably out of place.