The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Movie Review #822: We become jaded to the interesting premise soon enough.

By Alexander Diminiano

Comedy, Crime, Mystery
Rated PG-13 (contains mild sexual content, suggestive dialogue)
103 minutes

“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” dedicates a whole title card to telling use that it’s set in 1940. And I’m glad it does, to tell y’all the honest truth. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be set in the 1940s, or set at one of the earlier rehearsals of a high school play in 2001. The set design is extremely unconvincing. It’s not the appearance of actors like Dan Akyroyd that make this seem too modern. It’s the phony backdrop and set pieces.

Though I’ll sit back and relax about this point, because it might not even matter. It more than likely was intended. Woody Allen’s “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” is a cheesy film-noir homage, film-noir sendup, whatever you want to call it. Except I use the word “cheesy” with caution and deliberation here. It does mean that perhaps the art direction and set design were intended to look hokey. It does not mean I enjoyed the movie.

I wrote a screenplay a few years ago called “To Commit and to Capture”. It was an homage to film-noir, and a comment I kept getting was that the dialogue felt very forced. It strikes me as humorous that Woody Allen’s “Jade Scorpion” sets up with the same intentions–to pay homage to 1940’s film-noir–and it suffers in the exact same way. Its dialogue isn’t funny because it’s not well-written. In fact, while a good comedy aims to tell a story that will make us laugh along the way, “Jade Scorpion” tells a story that, though extremely clever, is told too seriously to warrant laughs, and therefore we deal with a plethora of forced jokes that just aren’t funny. You could only deliver a joke in a more obvious manner if you turned to the audience after delivering it, just to make sure that we’re laughing. (Mind you, we’re not.)

I’ve haven’t commended the movie very much at this point, but if you’re wondering whether “Jade Scorpion” is worth your time, I would advise you to ask one simple question of yourself: is a movie in which the character played by Woody Allen isn’t funny, worth watching? Having seen all but five Allen-directed films, I can honestly say that even in his absolute worst of movies, I am still capable of laughing at the character he plays onscreen, generally in the exact same persona each time. Unfortunately, it isn’t the case with “Jade Scorpion”. I may have laughed once or twice, and as I remember, I did; it was inaudible, non-resounding laughter.

The cast helps the movie little by little with its performance value. Helen Hunt‘s character remains at least slightly intriguing due to the lovable melodrama she infuses into her delivery, but to reiterate, it’s still not funny, even with the melodrama. The standout over the whole cast, however, is Charlize Theron, whose delivery of a femme fatale is half as much as Kim Basinger’s in “L.A. Confidential”. Basinger won an Oscar for her role, mind you, so there’s a pretty big compliment, though knowing that this is Theron we’re talking about, she can still do better by being in a different movie.

“Jade Scorpion” is the story of a detective of sorts who commits crimes while hypnotized and searches for the criminal while he is awake. He has been cursed by a jade scorpion pendant, and all it takes for him to become hypnotized after that is the pronunciation of the word “Constantinople,” even if it’s over the phone. Once the detective realizes that he is the criminal he has been looking for all along, he fails to understand the possibility. After all, he isn’t aware of having been hypnotized, much less of the crimes he committed during these hours.

The tale is pretty clever, but it’s not presented in a manner that’s witty or funny. I may as well keep mentioning this. It’s saddening how hard the movie tries to make us laugh and how idiotically unfunny it seems. Again, though, it is very clever. Woody Allen’s made three mystery movies: “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion”, and “Scoop”. While “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” isn’t quite as bad as “Scoop”, it’s not nearly as good as “Manhattan Murder Mystery”, either. The fact that it actually had some potential makes it even more disappointing. Instead of making something genius out of its plot, “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” drags out its story interminably. By the last twenty minutes, we’ve become jaded to it.


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