Curse of the Jade Scorpion [2001]

With The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Woody Allen pays another visit to his idealized past, and his retro blend of humor and nostalgia will surely satisfy the filmmaker's most loyal fans. Like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Radio Days, and Sweet and Lowdown, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is physically impeccable: its period-perfect costumes and sets capture 1940 New York with splendid authenticity and are further enhanced by the burnished glow of Zhao Fei's cinematography. And like those earlier films, Jade Scorpion mines comedic gold from its timeframe, molding it into a plot laced with expert zingers that could only spring from a keen awareness of comedic tradition. Add an appealing roster of costars (including Elizabeth Berkley and Charlize Theron) and you've got vintage Woody that perks right along. The movie's also as trivial as it is engaging; hack off 30 minutes and it might have had the delirious precision of early Marx Brothers classics. Instead, Allen's goofy conceit--enemies falling in love by hypnotic suggestion--is stretched to absurdity when efficiency expert Betty Ann "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) is hypnotically attracted to seasoned insurance investigator C.W. Briggs (Allen), despite their office enmity. Plus, a jewel-heist caper masterminded by the nightclub hypnotist (David Ogden Stiers) casts them both as suspects! Woody harvests a bumper crop of old-fashioned laughs from this predicament, and despite their conspicuous age difference and occasional awkward delivery, Hunt and Allen exchange volleys of dialogue like a seasoned comedy team. Dan Aykroyd is also good in a stodgy supporting role, but Jade Scorpion remains a mixed blessing--a welcomed throwback to comedy's yesteryear, from a master funnyman who's struggling to maintain relevance in the present. --Jeff Shannon

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