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The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

by on 2011/03/11

“Fragile masculinity? You make one more crack about my religion and ….woman or no woman…”

* * *

Godzilla vs. Mothra. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Aging Insurance Man vs. Savvy Business Lady.

Historic battles for the ages.

This March we are celebrating the dark world of film noir. If you are in a hurry to describe our theme to all your friends, you can simply say that for the next few weeks, is all about Noirch.*

Set in 1940, neo-noir The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, combines several things that I dearly love:

1) It was written and directed by Woody Allen, who also plays the aging insurance man referenced above.

2) It is jam-packed with old-timey jazz music and 1940s fashion.

3)  It features a hypnotist in a turban.

Wait, I hate hypnotists.

Seedy gumshoe C.W. Briggs (Allen) is an insurance investigator who has an uncanny knack for solving crimes. Bragging about how he’s able to get in the criminals’ heads, he’s been quite happy (for quite a long time) with his antiquated way of doing things. His work style favours towering stacks of paper files, seamy street informants, and whispered backroom deals over shots of cheap hooch.

Unfortunately for Briggs, his boss Chris Magruder (Dan Akroyd) has hired an efficiency expert to “streamline the office.” The expert is a woman no less – named Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt).


Hoping to smarm his way out of falling victim to her relentless wave of modernization, he invites her for drinks. Immune to his boozy charms, Betty Ann tells Briggs: “I am smarter than you. I am faster. You are right to feel threatened by me.” She turns on her pretty pumps and leaves.

Now with a hatred for the confident Betty Ann like only a crusty old relic can feel, Briggs vows it isn’t over. “She thinks she’s smarter than me because she graduated from Vassar and I went to driving school.” Day after day in the office, they tear at each other like a bag of shaken cats.

A tiresome company party for a retiring colleague brings the two together after hours. As part of the evening’s entertainment, a hypnotist Voltan (David Ogden Stiers) fishes the office combatants out of the audience to act as volunteers.

The hypnotist convinces the unlikely couple, through the use of a dangled jade scorpion charm, that they are deeply, passionately in love. Voltan uses a trigger word “Madagascar” to induce the deepest part of the trance. Snagging a couple of cheap laughs from the audience, the hypnotist returns the two to their baseline of mutual disgust and antagonism.

Unfortunately, Voltan’s act isn’t really over. It turns out that he is as crooked as his turban. The whole night club act was just a scam to make Briggs his unwitting dupe, triggering deep, compliant hypnosis every time the hypnotist calls Briggs on the phone and utters the word “Madagascar.”

Zombie Briggs is then forced to knock off his clients’ homes, stealing jewelry and other assorted valuables for this sideshow Mesmer.

Now in act of investigating himself during the day and committing crimes at night, Briggs juggles the attentions (both wanted and unwanted) of the relentless Ms. Betty Ann and the slinky minx Laura Kensington (Charlize Theron), a misbehaving heiress.

I read somewhere that Allen felt The Curse of the Jade Scorpion to be his worst film. I do hope that isn’t true. I really don’t like to disagree with my beloved Woody Allen.

In fact, Jade Scorpion has many charms. The lines are Allen-grade witty and the setting is like peering through the dusty window into a 1940’s office block.

That said, I’ve never really liked Hunt (Trancers).  She took the hard-driving, ruthless female executive act so far that she seemed about as one-dimensional as a clipboard full of spreadsheets. 

Still there’s charm by the battered briefcase and um, a happy ending. Sort of.

“It’s a match made in heaven… by a retarded angel.”

I will leave you now with the gospel according to Woody:

Chris: You know, there’s a word for people who think everyone is conspiring against them.
C.W.: I know, perceptive.


* * * *

103 minutes

PG-13 for Elizabeth Berkley in bobby sox

*copyright Hacker Renders

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