Movie Review By Casey McCabe
For many years it was comforting to know that Woody Allen always had a new film coming out. The prolific Allen had a way of dialing up anticipation by shrouding his productions in secrecy, through the cast list would inevitably leak out, and it was often stellar and always intriguing. Even a pooh-poohing review couldn't stop me. Good or bad, I was compelled to see whatever he saw fit to serve up.
Then in recent years the feeling was replaced by dread, or worse yet, indifference. It wasn't just that Woody Allen was not in his top form. He wasn't in any form. The world was speeding by him and the only pulse he was taking was his own. It's like watching an athlete lose a step. I'm not talking about Michael Jordan still thinking he can lace ‘em up. I'm talking about Bob Cousy trying to guard Allen Iverson.
And now here comes Woody's latest, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion." It 's far from a slam dunk. But it is invigorating proof that the Woodman's still got game. "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is exactly the wry 1940s romantic potboiler the title suggests. Allen fits comfortably into the topcoat of CW Briggs, the ace insurance investigator who gets entangled in a web of wonderfully stylish deceit, sexually charged banter, vintage Manhattan locations and tasty jazz licks on the soundtrack. No wonder Allen looks so comfortable.
And in Helen Hunt, who plays the company efficiency expert, Briggs's loathed adversary and main love interest, Allen has found the most banter and barb worthy actress working today. I must admit, Hunt's charms have eluded me for much of her career. The woman simply made me nervous and irritated. And I suspect that wasn't always the intent of the character. But like Allen, she slips into the period piece as if it were an overdue vacation. The '40s were a good time to be a fast talking broad, hard on the outside but with a chewy nougat center. And while Allen - the writer - gives himself some good zingers, he's gentleman enough to give Hunt the most eviscerating lines.
Allen can still throw a cast together, and in "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" he dabbles with Hunt, Charlize Theron and Elizabeth Berkeley as objects of affection. It's one of those great things writer/director/actors get to do. But it does bring up a problem. In another era, Allen might have been considered attractive, though probably no later than the Pleistocene epoch (a line I am happy to credit to Allen himself). But now in his sixties, and looking much less preserved than either Warren or Ned Beatty, the sight of Woody Allen planting a kiss on the hottest actresses of the day can make one a little queasy. Yes, he should have picked a younger actor to play his part. But by playing a sincere charmer rather than tortured nebbish at least he earns his affection in "Curse of the Jade Scorpion." It should have been a peck on the forehead, but hey, who among us would show such noble restraint?
Anyway, it was good to see Woody Allen again. And he seemed to be having a swell time.
© 2001 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 8/22/01
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