Overlooked Film of the Week- #19
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
I guess re-thinking my favorite films of the 1970's put me in a Woody Allen kind of mood.
For a guy who releases a new film every year, its easy to write him off as a phony. But underneath it all, for every "Celebrity," or "Scoop," or "To Rome With Love," or "Mighty Aphroditie" that Allen makes, there are just as many "Annie Hall"s, "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Manhattan"s and "Hannah and her Sisters" that he gets made. No matter if the rest of his career turns out to be crap, I will always consider Woody Allen one of my favorite filmmakers, and a guy who has shaped my cinematic vocabulary.
"The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is one of his more underrated offerings. A movie that is ill-remembered as is most of his late '90's or early 2000's fair. But for me, it hits my pleasure center every time I watch it. "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" isn't one of Allen's most important works, but it is one that possess the ability to entertain with ease.
Woody Allen plays C.W. Briggs, a 1940's insurance clerk for a highly prestigious insurance investigation company in New York City. He's a talented gum-shoe, who has had a very successful career. However, Briggs often butts heads with Betty Anne Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) a new efficiency expert who doesn't like Briggs's old-fashioned techniques of investigation. I would have never imagined Helen Hunt and Woody Allen having great chemistry, but they sure do. Their acting is just one of the many highlights of this splendid little film.
Briggs and Fitzgerald go out to a colleague's birthday party, where a magician named Volton (David Ogden Stiers) is performing an act. For one of Volton's acts, he asks for the assistance of Briggs and Fitzgerald. Volton hypnotizes Briggs and Fitzgerald using an old Chinese artifact called the Jade Scorpion, Volton makes Briggs and Fitzgerald believe they are in love with each other. When Briggs and Fitzgerald snap out of the trance, they have absolutely no memory of what just transpired. Its a hilarious scene, and Hunt and Allen milk out great work from the script. When Briggs gets back home he gets an unexpected call from Volton, who puts Briggs under a trance and gets him to rob rich clients belonging to Briggs's company. When Briggs wakes up in the morning, he has no memory of robbing anybody. The rest of the movie is a slapstick comedy as Briggs tries to find the thief who is robbing all of these people, extremely oblivious that he is being used by a mad magician!
Not only are Woody Allen and Helent Hunt good in this, but the entire cast is very good. David Ogden Stiers has a commanding voice as Volton, and his performance is a big highlight of the film. Dan Aykroyd shows up as Chris Magruder, Briggs's boss and who is romantically involved with Fitzgerald. Aykroyd is his typical self, full of comedic charm. Charlize Theron plays Laura Kensington, the daughter of a rich family who house gets robbed. Theron and Allen have several funny scenes together. Even Elizabeth Berkeley from "Saved By The Bell," shows up as a secretary. Its a great cast all doing good work.
What also makes "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" work is that Allen taps back into his mind of his old '70's comedies. This is a screwball comedy over anything else, but it is funny enough that you will have a smile on your face. This was unlike anything else he made during this particular time, and I like that. I like when filmmakers try something different, put a new spin on a genre. I'm sure you all will find much to love from this one too.