Woody Allen, Helen Hunt, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Markinson, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Charlize Theron
Box Office: Budget $26 million.
Opening weekend $2.459 million on 903 screens.
Domestic gross $7.496 million.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
Runtime: 102 min.
Release Date: 1/29/2002
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Filmmakers
• Production Notes
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
With 2001’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Woody Allen again ventures into the not-too-distant past for his story. He shows a particular fondness for the Thirties and Forties, and the reason seems obvious; those decades encompassed his formative years. Actually, his flights of nostalgia can go back as the turn of the century in 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, and flicks like 1983’s Zelig stretched into the Twenties. (Of course, this omits 1975’s Love and Death, which stretched back to the early 19th century; that goes beyond “nostalgic” to become “historical”.)
In any case, the Thirties and Forties remain Allen’s favorite non-modern time era, and he seems happier there for the time being. He indulged his period leanings heavily from 1982’s Sex Comedy through 1987’s Radio Days; during that span, five of his six films showed some form of historical bent. After that, he stayed in modern times for most of his flicks. 1992’s Shadows and Fog took place in some undefined place and time, while Bullets Over Broadway went back to the Twenties. Otherwise, 10 of the 12 flicks he made between Radio Days and 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown stayed firmly in the present.
Between Lowdown and Scorpion, two of Allen’s last three flicks went nostalgic. Will this mean that he’ll spend much of this upcoming decade stuck in the past? Probably not, but it could become a trend.
At least it gave me a way to start this review! In Scorpion, Allen plays C.W. Briggs, a successful insurance fraud investigator. Recently the company brought a new supervisor on board to make the firm more efficient. Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) and Briggs immediately loathe each other, especially since she seems intent on giving him the boot despite his terrific track record.
The two become bizarrely intimate at a party for a co-worker’s 50th birthday. They go to a club to see a hypnotist named Voltan (David Ogden Stiers); he mesmerizes them into thinking they love each other. All in attendance have a good laugh at the foes’ expense, but it turns out that Voltan left them in a suggestible state. He uses this to his advantage as he sends Briggs to steal valuables from houses he helped make “burglar-proof”!
Much of the movie follows the investigation of the crime, as Briggs unknowingly pursues himself. His relationship with Fitzgerald also deepens - c’mon, like we didn’t know they’d really fall for each other! - as she continues an affair with her boss, the unhappily married Chris Magruder (Dan Aykroyd). Complications ensue, plots thicken, and goofiness occurs.
Overall, Scorpion offered a cute but insubstantial experience. On the positive side, the story seems fun and clever for the most part. We’ve seen hypnotist tales in the past, and some parts of this one fall into the standard territory, but the use of the technique for criminal pursuits is compelling.
While not populated with his strongest comic material, Allen provides a reasonable number of good lines. The gags fly fast and furious at times, and a fair number of them stick. Most amusing is the manner in which the hypnotized Briggs behaves. At times this goes on too long, such as the scene in which he boots sexy heiress Laura Kensington (Charlize Theron) from his bed while in a trance. It’s a good scene for a while, but Allen doesn’t know when to quit, so it wears out its welcome.
Still, it’s an entertaining bit, and most of Scorpion includes reasonably witty material. Unfortunately, the performers occasionally undermine the work. The film includes three attractive females, none of whom offer a good performance. The least talented is Elizabeth Berkley, and since she has the smallest role, her inability causes no problems.
On the other hand, Theron can’t pull off the femme fatale role. Given a serious Veronica Lake look, Theron seems stiff and unengaging. She has the physical appearance for the part but comes across as too flat and lifeless to be appropriately wicked and tawdry.
Hunt offers another in a long string of bland performances. How this woman won as Oscar remains a mystery to me, for she almost always lacks presence or personality. Her interactions with Allen are supposed to show sparks, but they fail in that regard. There’s absolutely no chemistry between the two leads, and this actively harms the film.
And what’s with Hunt and older men? In her flicks, the 38-year-old actress has been romantically connected to 66-year-old Allen, 49-year-old Aykroyd, 46-year-old Mel Gibson, and 64-year-old Jack Nicholson. Granted, Hollywood often features significant age differences between leading men and their ladies, but Hunt’s turned this into a cottage industry. When will she star with Milton Berle?
Ultimately, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion offers a reasonably entertaining but unspectacular piece of work. It seems like fairly typical Woody Allen material. It lacks the spark and verve of his best films, but it also escapes the embarrassing qualities of weaker flicks like Everyone Says I Love You or Alice. It’s midlevel Allen, which makes it intermittently good but unexceptional.
The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio C- / Bonus D
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. His second release for DreamWorks, Scorpion duplicated the terrific transfer of its predecessor, Small Time Crooks.
By that, I don’t mean they looked identical, but they both offered excellent visual quality. For Scorpion, sharpness seemed immaculate from start to finish. The image always came across as crisp and distinct, and it showed virtually no signs of softness. Jagged edges, moiré effects and edge enhancement appeared absent, and print flaws were similarly non-existent. Actually, I saw one or two speckles of grit, but otherwise, this was a clean and fresh picture.
To fit the period setting of the flick, Allen imbued Scorpion with a golden look, and the DVD showed the colors wonderfully well. Despite the somewhat monochrome appearance of the piece, it still represented other hues with terrific accuracy and clarity. The colors came across as accurate and rich at all times. Black levels also seemed deep and dense, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly opaque. All in all, Scorpion boasted a simply fantastic transfer.
Woody Allen doesn’t favor multi-channel audio, so The Curse of the Jade Scorpion offered only a monaural soundtrack. The mix seemed typical and greatly resembled the audio for many other Allen movies. Dialogue was consistently intelligible and reasonably natural, and I heard no concerns related to edginess. Effects came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, and they occasionally showed decent low-end response. Music fell into the same category, as the score - which consisted entirely of period jazz recordings, another Allen staple - was fairly bright with reasonable fidelity; due to the source, bass response stayed lackluster but range seemed acceptable nonetheless. It was another satisfying mono mix, but it lost points for its lack of ambition; Scorpion sounded good, but by default, a single-channel track from 2001 doesn’t deserve a grade above “C-“.
Allen fans know that the director doesn’t care for supplements, which is why we never find much on the DVDs for his films. Compared to most Allen releases, however, Scorpion comes packed to the gills. In addition the film’s theatrical trailer, we find Cast and Filmmakers listings. Like most DreamWorks DVDs, these cover a slew of participants. We get entries for Allen, executive producer Stephen Tenenbaum, producer Letty Aronson, co-producer Helen Robin, editor Alisa Lepselter, director of photography Zhao Fei, production designer Santo Loquasto, costume designer Suzanne McCabe, and actors Helen Hunt, David Ogden Stiers, Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Berkley, Brian Markinson and Wallace Shawn. For the most part, these amount to annotated filmographies, but their scope seems positive nonetheless. (In the case of Allen, all we find is a plain filmography; I guess his dislike of extras means he refuses to allow them to print even some rudimentary biographical information!)
Lastly, the package includes some fairly interesting Production Notes. These appear both on the DVD itself and inside the package’s booklet. The latter represent a truncated version of the longer text found on the disc. Objectively, this remains a weak set of extras, but for an Allen flick, it’s better than I expected.
As for The Curse of the Jade Scorpion itself, the film offers a reasonably good but unsubstantial piece. The movie has its moments and comes across as fairly entertaining, though the serious lack of chemistry between its leads causes serious problems. The DVD provides excellent picture with clear monaural sound and a very minor complement of extras. Probably the biggest defect of this disc stems from its price; the bare-bones Scorpion lists for a whopping $32.99! As such, it seems like a rental candidate for all but the most dedicated Allen fans.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5555 Stars
| Number of Votes: 18