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Curse of the Jade Scorpion (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Letty Aronson
Written by: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, David Ogden Stiers

Rating: out of 5

Woody Allen runs hot and cold. He has well over 30 films to his credit, some are real gems and a few are duds. When his films are good, they work because they are a brilliant reflection of his tortured psyche. He has captured the complexity of relationships with neurosis and narcissism in films like ANNIE HALL, HUSBANDS AND WIVES, and the eerily prescient MANHATTAN.

Unfortunately, THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION clearly falls in the dud category. Woody Allen tells us nothing about himself and, as a result, his latest film has an empty impersonal feeling. It's filled with characters who don't connect with the audience; in fact the characters don't even seem to connect with one another.

Set in 1940s New York, Allen plays an insurance investigator (C.W. Briggs) at major firm who solves crimes; Helen Hunt (Betty Ann FitzGerald) plays the newly hired "efficiency expert." They hate each other from the start. She thinks he's incompetent, and he thinks she's a callous number cruncher trying to get him fired. One night the office staff goes out for a party at a club where the hypnotist Voltan (Stiers) is performing. Betty Ann and C.W. are pulled from the audience, and after being put under, they fall into stuporous dazes and profess their love for each other. When they snap out of it, they're back at each other's throats.

Voltan, it turns out, is a jewel thief. The following evening, he telephones C.W. and utters the "curse of the jade scorpion." C.W. falls into a trance, and under his spell, begins to heist jewels from mansions. The ensuing romantic mistiming is supposed to be what hinges the film together. One minute Betty Ann and C.W. despise each other, but as soon as the hypnotist phones, they utterly confuse each other with confessions of love.

It sounds like a great idea for a screwball romantic comedy, but it fails miserably for several reasons. There isn't a spark of chemistry between the main characters. Their bickering exchanges are so embarrassingly dumb, I've heard 10-year-olds taunt each other on a playground with better one-liners. Hunt is also completely miscast as an independent-minded career woman. Her performance is stiff and restrained. Throughout the entire film she looks anachronistic even in a 1940s period piece. When she takes a drag off a cigarette and crushes it in an ashtray, it has to be the worst use of smoking as a prop I've ever seen.

Woody Allen, of course, plays the same character he has throughout all his films, be they hits or misses. But without a clever screenplay, his stammering, nebbish schtick is tiresome.

-Nancy Semin

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