“Scorpion” Needs a Dose of Viagra To Keep This Woody Stiff
I find it unfortunate when great artists feel that they have to dumb down their work to appeal to the masses.
New York. 1940. CW Briggs (Woody Allen), the top investigator at an insurance firm, hates the firm’s new efficiency expert, Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt). CW is a bit antiquated. He still calls the girls ‘toots’ and pinches them on their bottom. Betty Ann is a modern woman that will do whatever has to be done to get the job done. The boss (Dan Aykroyd) invites everyone out to dinner to celebrate a co-workers birthday. Voltan (David Ogden Stiers), a hypnotist at the nightclub, asks for volunteers and immediately puts both CW and Betty Ann under his spell. Each will do whatever he asks when he mentions the words ‘Constantinople’ or ‘Madagascar’. To prove his point, he makes them act as though they are madly in love with each other, much to the delight of everyone else in the office. Soon, some of the firm’s biggest clients have their jewels robbed from their homes. CW becomes a suspect.
I am a huge Woody Allen fan, but, frankly, his last few films have proven to me that he either doesn’t have the heart for it anymore or he is making his films ‘more accessible’ to appeal to a larger audience. “Small Time Crooks” was Woody Allen-lite, and provided his biggest hit in years. “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” follows the same path. The subject matter is so ripe for parody, that Allen, clearly a fan of the period, could have made a great film. Instead, he made a film that, while it looks good, quickly becomes tiresome.
The best thing about “Small Time Crooks” was that Woody eventually falls in love with Elaine May’s character, a woman who is Woody’s equal in age. This seemed to be a step in the right direction. Woody didn’t seem to be so concerned with women three to four generations younger than he was. Perhaps Woody had matured enough to accept his own age. In “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”, Woody’s character is apparently so irresistible that he attracts characters played by Charlize Theron, Helen Hunt and Elizabeth Berkley. Each of them kisses him at some point. Does he think this is believable? Yes, he makes self-deprecating comments about his looks and his age, but come on.
While there are a few laughs, the level of writing nowhere matches the level attained by Woody in “Manhattan”, “Annie Hall” or “Crimes & Misdemeanors”. Hell, it doesn’t even come close to “Manhattan Murder Mystery”. When Woody’s fans go to his films they expect involving stories with involving characters. We experience the characters lives through their many twists and turns. They seem believable because so much happens to them and they experience so much as we watch. “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” pretty much concentrates on the CW Briggs and Betty Ann characters. As we watch their relationship develop, we can pretty much guess how the relationship will be resolved an hour or so before it happens.
The whole jewelry theft subplot becomes tiresome. The characters walk through the parts, literally in a trance, providing little of interest.
Dan Aykroyd, Charlize Theron, Wallace Shawn and David Ogden Stiers provide the usual star-studded back-up. They are all as effective as can be. Elizabeth Berkley plays the young office worker, CW’s assistant, who is completely infatuated with him. It is time for Berkley to take some acting lessons. Even she can not pull off her brief parts. I never once believed she was born before the Forties. She always looks like an actress playing a role.
“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” is a largely unfunny, tiring, tedious film, easily one of Woody Allen’s worst. It makes “Small Time Crooks” look like a classic.