Woody Allen's 'Curse' is moviegoers' fortune
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
(Rated PG-13 with profanity and innuendo) Three Stars (Good)
Woody Allen pays an amusing tribute to the screwball comedies of the 1940s, fooling around with a light-hearted mystery plot worthy of a Charlie Chan movie matinee. Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron and Dan Aykroyd co-star. DreamWorks, 103 mins.
Allen stars as C.W. Briggs, a skillful Manhattan insurance investigator who can't crack the biggest jewel theft case of 1940.
Little does he know that he is the thief i thanks to a nefarious hypnotist.
Also, because of the hypnotist, C.W. finds himself falling for a new, uptight office supervisor (Helen Hunt), a woman he normally can't stand.
"Jade Scorpion" continues Allen's return to his comedy roots that the filmmaker began with last year's "Small-Time Crooks."Trouble starts for C.W. when he joins his insurance company co-workers at a birthday party for a fellow staffer. Part of the entertainment is Voltan, a turban-clad hypnotist (David Ogden Stiers).
Voltan calls C.W. to the stage, along with Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Hunt), the office efficiency expert (and pain-in-the-neck).
To the genial amusement of their co-workers, Voltan hypnotizes C.W. and Betty Ann into thinking they co-exist in marital bliss. And the hypnotist makes the words "Madagascar" and "Constantinople" the keys to unlocking their minds.
Later that night, however, C.W. gets a call from Voltan, who mutters "Madagascar" and then orders the investigator to go immediately to the lavish Kensington estate and rob it.
Meanwhile, C.W.'s life has also gotten more entangled with Betty Ann, thanks to some residual affection left over from Voltan's original marital-bliss experiment. Betty Ann, though, is already deeply involved in an illicit office romance with the boss (Dan Aykroyd).
There's also a mysterious Veronica Lake-like character i played by Charlize Theron in a one-note performance.
Hunt, though, has a plum role. Thanks to the hypnotist, she drastically shifts personalities, from ice queen efficiency expert to passionate lover to confused criminal co-conspirator.
Allen reflects the era with evocative detail i the office and residential sets are all superbly outfitted. They're richly shot in gorgeous golden tones and red highlights by noted Chinese cinematographer Zhao Fei.
And, once again, Allen demonstrates his expert musical taste with a period soundtrack that ranges from Duke Ellington to Earl Hines to Wilbur de Paris.
The film returns Allen to the era of one of his best movies, "Radio Days."
But while that 1987 film focused on the affect of radio on his youth, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" plays like one of the campy radio plays he might have listened to as a boy.
It's all fodder for Allen and his talented cast to throw fast-paced lines at each other in the grand tradition of "His Girl Friday" or "It Happened One Night."
Although Allen's finished product falls short of the finely polished masterpieces of the screwball era, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" still offers more than enough merry magic to hold you under its spell.
Rated PG-13, with profanity, innuendo.