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:: Curse of the Jade Scorpion

For fans of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanours and many others, the last few years have been disappointing. The inimitable Allen seems tired, the jokes strain with visible effort for a laugh, and the pacing too slow for the zany comedies he has been attempting of late, like last year’s Small Time Crooks.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion has all the right ingredients, an escapade with plenty of room for Allen’s comic talents, a tough broad for him to play against, but somehow the cracks in the plot are bigger than the wise cracks in the dialogue. How long can Allen expect to play the rakish, skirt chasing rogue and still expect to be lovable not laughable? And though Helen Hunt is a fine actress, she is no Diane Keaton and the sparks between her and Allen never really fly.

Part romantic comedy, part caper film, the story concerns a hot shot insurance investigator (Allen), threatened by a new productivity expert (Hunt), who is threatening to make his job redundant. When they are both hypnotised by a stage magician in a restaurant, their true love for each other is revealed, as well as a more sinister plot to steal millions of dollars worth of jewels. There are still a few laughs to be had, mainly in Allen’s ‘hypnotised’ acting.

The supporting cast are all fine, none have too much to do, particularly Elizabeth Berkley, best known for her disastrous career choice in Show Girls. Dan Aykroyd is suitably smarmy as Allen’s boss, and his scenes with Helen Hunt are the most natural of the film. Allen’s casting of himself is the main fault with the acting. His stammers and gesticulations seem out of place, the signs of a man actually reaching for the words, rather than a character lost for them.

Zhao Fei, a Chinese cinematographer who has won numerous awards for “Raise the Red Lantern” does a terrific job, but somehow the nineteen forties era is never quite evoked. It still looks like Allen and his friends playing dress ups. Even the ubiquitous jazz music doesn’t help. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is not an unpleasant way to spend an evening, but don’t expect too many laughs or too many surprises.

Screening at Dendy Brighton, Cinema Nova, Classic Cinemas, and Cinema Europa