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Monday October 25th

Old Plot, Mediocre Acting Give `Scorpion' Weak Sting

In "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion," Allen plays C.W. Briggs, a top insurance investigator in 1940 New York. As Briggs, Allen writes and directs himself in a comfortable, self-deprecating role in the classic Allen mold, proving he's still the king of one-liners.

It's his outdated methods that cause Briggs to lock horns with the company's new, wisecracking efficiency expert, Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt). He explains their differences summarily: "She graduated from Vassar, and I went to driving school." Her affair with the agency's boss (Dan Akroyd) complicates matters more.

Things are set in motion when a nightclub magician hypnotizes Briggs and Fitzgerald to act as though they were in love. When the unscrupulous magician uses his power over Briggs to manipulate him into stealing some jewels, Briggs is unable to catch the culprit -- himself.

Despite the good premise, the only thing that really ends up working well is Allen himself. As Fitzgerald, Hunt makes an ideal dame, but she isn't given enough to do until later in the film. Other women Allen surrounds himself with in the film are similarly weak. Charlize Theron lusts after Allen's character, and the age gap's the size of the Hudson. And shame on the casting director -- whoever picked Elizabeth Berkley to play a perky office girl should really have known better.

Allen's characteristic touches help to polish the film's shortcomings, but "Scorpion" never quite gets to be as funny as one would like it to be. It's always amusing, and some scenes inspire many laughs, but it isn't all together satisfying. Like Briggs says in the film, "My instincts are good but not infallible."

Still, even second-rate Woody Allen is much more entertaining than most comedies in theaters today.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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