DVD Reviews - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

      Date posted: October 29, 2002

Dreamworks Home Entertainment; Written and Directed by
Woody Allen; Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1; English Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish, French subtitles.

Gosford Park

Woody Allen needs to stop making so many films. It has now been a decade since his last great work, Husbands and Wives, yet he insists on continuing his one-movie-per-year cycle. Presumably he continues to receive financing on the strength of the casts he can pull together, but if he follows Small Time Crooks and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion with yet another dreadful picture, surely the well will run dry.

     The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is, I suppose, Allen’s attempt to make a Bob Hope movie. It’s set in noir-land: a 1940’s insurance agency, with Allen as the company’s lead claims investigator. The 40s pro duction design and corresponding attitudes are fun, but if this movie were released when these concepts were still relevant, it would have been a bad movie then, too.

      I knew this film reminded me of something but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I watched Charlize Theron trying to seduce the physically and mentally revolting character played by Allen: I was watching a high school play. Back at Aurora High a friend of mine wasn’t having much luck with the ladies so he joined the drama club, wrote a play, and made sure he played a character that got to kiss a pretty girl. The plot was irrelevant - some ridiculous concotion involving hypnosis and stolen jewels. All that mattered was getting to suck a little face, in front of an audience to boot.

      So here we have Woody Allen’s high school play. A ridiculous concotion involving hypnosis and stolen jewels, in which Woody gets to ogle Elizabeth Berkeley, kiss Charlize Theron, and marry Helen Hunt. His attempt to revive Bob Hope’s light, one-liner tinged comedy has instead left us with memories of Tony Curtis’s light, zero-liner tinged comedy. At least Tony could take his shirt off without inducing vomit from the audience.

      Woody has oft been criticized for miscasting himself, but he has never been so clearly out to lunch. Watching he and Hunt trying to riff a la Grant/Russell in His Girl Firday is grotesque on many levels. Helen puts up a good fight, but you can almost see pity in her eyes. Allen is nearly twice her age yet it feels like Hunt is his mother, dutifully acting along in one of her son’s living room masterpieces for the relatives before Christmas dinner. Heaven forbid anyone should stunt young Woody’s creativity.

      Cinematography buffs might be interested in checking out Zhao Fei’s gorgeous, utterly wasted Chinatown-esque lighting, while testosterone buffs can feast their eyes on Charlize, decked out like Lauren Bacall with the body and brittle attitude to match.

      Special Features: I’m sure the thought of doing a director’s commentary track truly horrifies Allen, but maybe Dreamworks was just smart enough to realize that no one is going to want to watch The Curse of the Jade Scorpion twice. The result is a pretty barren disc, with only cast and filmmakers bio, ample production notes, and a trailer. (DS)

Darryl Stenabaugh

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