The only man who can crack the case is completely clueless!
As each new year goes by, movie fans can usually count on one thing: Woody Allen will make yet another film tinged with 1930s jazz music and hysterical one liners. The 1970s and 1980s fostered some great Allen films, including the Oscar winning Annie Hall, the wacky Love And Death, the dramatic Hannah and Her Sisters, and the contemplative Crimes And Misdemeanors. By the time the 1990s rolled around, Allen's films had become a little weak and even panned by his usually exuberant critics. While there were a string of critical "hits" (including Mighty Aphrodite and Bullets Over Broadway), there were also a batch of only mediocre efforts, including Shadows and Fog, Celebrity, and Small Time Crooks. I'm happy to report that The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, while not a perfect Woody Allen film, is a funny and amiable Allen comedy, now on DVD from DreamWorks Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Taking place in New York, 1940, C.W. Briggs (Allen) is an insurance investigator who never seems to have a clue. In his office, run by the portly Mr. Magruder (Dan Aykroyd, Ghostbusters), Briggs partakes in an affair with a bubble headed secretary (Elizabeth Berkley, still acting even after Showgirls) and spars relentlessly with Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets), an efficiency expert who is actually having an affair with Mr. Magruder. During a local dinner show with some co-workers, Betty Ann (or "Fitz," as she's called) and C.W. are used as volunteers to be hypnotized by the mysterious Voltan (David Ogden Stiers, Doc Hollywood). Using the trigger words "Madagascar" for Fitz and "Constantinople" for Briggs, the amazing Voltan is able to make these two sworn enemies swoon over each other while in his trance. Snapped out of their hypnosis, the two are unaware that anything has transpired. However, days later Briggs (while attempting a rendezvous with the sultry Miss Kensington, played by Charlize Theron) gets a call from Voltan, suspiciously using the trigger word to snap Briggs back into his trance. Voltan quickly orders Briggs to steal a batch of valuable jewels from the Kensington estate (where Briggs helped set up their security system)! Stealing the jewels and then snapping out of the trance, Briggs is unaware that he is actually the culprit of the crime—even as he tries to crack the case himself!
In a way, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is a return to form for Woody Allen. Since the disappointing Celebrity, I have been waiting anxiously for a Woody Allen movie that can make me laugh like the good old days. The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is not the greatest, or even eighth-greatest Woody Allen movie ever made. The script is weak with some obvious lulls coming toward the end. However, there are plenty of one-liners and Woody witticism to make up for its mediocre story.
Allen's spin on the hypnosis craze of 1940s has a wonderful cast, the best Woody has assembled in years. In a way, this movie harkens back to the days of Katharine Hepburn and the feisty dames of that era. Helen Hunt as Allen's nemesis/love interest zings back insults at Briggs faster than he can compute them (when Allen barges into her office to complain about her rearrangement of his files, Hunt shoots back, "Would you like to try going back out and try coming back in like a human being? If you don't like the human being idea, try an orangutan. That would be a step up too"). Charlize Theron is a sultry seductress, and the movie is all the better because of her (or, maybe that's just because she gets half-naked in one scene). I especially enjoyed David Ogdon Stiers as the shamming Voltan—his commanding voice and presence always welcome on screen. I'm always a bit surprised to see certain actors popping up in Allen's movies; in Celebrity there was Kenneth Brannagh and Leonardo DiCaprio, and Small Time Crooks had Jon Lovtiz. In The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion we get a very paunchy looking Dan Aykroyd and, for no reason except pure bafflement, Elizabeth Berkley as a cute and bubbly secretary.
The best thing that The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion does is get the look and feel of the 1940s just right. Except for Allen himself (whose familiar persona is solid no matter what era he's acting in), The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion feels like it might actually have been produced in the early part of cinema's reign. The color schemes and music all fit the era. While there is some sexual innuendo, the humor comes from wit and intelligence, not modern day fart jokes or sperm gags. Come to think of it, maybe I should just rent comedies from the '40s and '50s instead of going to see today's dreck in the theaters.
The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is highly recommended to Woody Allen fans, and anyone with a taste for zippy, barbed flirting between a young woman (Hunt) and an old man (Allen). It may be creepy, but…well, it's just creepy (but hey, that's Woody for ya).
The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very good looking transfer that shows only the slightest form of imperfection. A small amount of edge enhancement showed up in a few key scenes, though otherwise the colors look vibrant and clean. The black levels all look spot on with the flesh tones evenly rendered. DreamWorks has done a very nice job on this print (even if Allen never wants anything to do with the DVD releases of his films).
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English, French, and Spanish. I was sort of surprised to see this soundtrack at the low end of the spectrum, but with Allen's love of early films I should have seen this coming. The 1.0 soundtrack sounds very flat and uninspired, though the dialogue, music, and effects are all free of any distortion or hiss. I think I can speak for the majority of DVD fans by stating that while I applaud Mr. Allen's efforts to keep it in the 1940s, I don't think that means you should skimp on the soundtrack. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Much like every other Woody Allen film released on DVD, The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion only includes a scant few extra features. There are some short production notes, some information on the primary cast and crew, plus a theatrical trailer presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Whoop-dee-do.
I really enjoyed The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion more than I expected—maybe this means Allen's movies will start getting better instead of worse. DreamWorks has done a nice job on this disc, though I think the lack of supplements is more Woody's doing than the studio's.
The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion is free to go. The disc is slapped with a misdemeanor for iffy audio and no substantial extra features. Case dismissed!
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